Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Niche For Lights of Al-Ghazzali (Complete)


One Light, one light, light that is one thought the lamps be many.” – Incredible String Band

Al-Ghazzali (circa. 1050 – 1111 AD) is considered to be an Illumined Sufi Master. One of his most read and discussed works, the Mishkat Al-Anwar, (The Niche For Lights), is about Light—its reality and its illusion, its existence in the external world and its source in the inner world of the Soul.

Though The Niche For Lights poses a deep challenge to modern and contemporary science, it is, in fact, consistent with the utterances of such august contemporary Masters of consciousness as Meher Baba and Upasani Maharaj.

The stars and planets, Suns, and worlds, which are the shadows of shadows, though seen from a tremendous distance, appear so bright and dazzling. Then just imagine, can you? the brilliancy and splendor of the real Light (God).” - Meher Baba

The sun you see neither heats nor gives light.” – Upasani Maharaj

This same sentiment is echoed in the colorful words of G.I. Gurdjieff in his book, All and Everything—that the Sun, commonly understood as our source of “heat and light," is itself almost always freezing cold like the "hairless-dog" of our highly esteemed Mullah Nassr Eddin.

The Mishkat Al-Anwar is in the form of a response to a follower’s request “to communicate to you the mysteries of the Lights Divine, together with the allusions behind the literal meaning of certain texts in the Koran and certain sayings in the Traditions, and principally this text,

‘Allah is the Light of Heavens and of the Earth. The similitude of His Light is, as it were, a Niche wherein is a Lamp: the Lamp within a Glass: the Glass, as it were, a pearly Star.

‘From a Tree right blessed is it lit, an Olive tree neither of the East nor of the West, it’s Oil well-nigh luminous, though Fire touched it not: Light upon Light!’”

Al-Ghazzali gets to the kernel of the Koranic assertion thusly; “What is the significance of His comparison of Light with Niche, and Glass, and Lamp, and Oil and Tree?” He then goes on to say; “Such is your request. But in making it you have assayed to climb an arduous ascent, so high that the height thereof cannot be so much as gauged by mortal eyes. You have knocked at a locked door which is only opened to those who know andare established in knowledge.’ Moreover, not every mystery is to be laid bare or made plain…”

Why this addendum? Is he trying to lower the questioner’s expectations—or raise them? Is he suggesting that to engage in this topic will take preparation and work on the questioner’s part? Or is it a caution—that the very act of engaging in the topic may be fraught with some kinds of dangers?

These days, the lines of distinctions between information, knowledge, and experience, are unclear or even non-existent, as are the relationships among these three domains. But in the days of Al-Ghazzali these distinctions were quite clear. Information was mundane and obtained at a much cheaper price, but knowledge came with a much higher cost and was always linked to experience. In other words, the price of knowledge was the necessity for a real change in the consciousness and experience of the seeker. One could not just obtain knowledge, one had to put themselves into the search and become someone/something else. I think this is important as we discuss the Mishkat Al-Anwar. I’m not saying that we should approach it with fear as much as a state that recognizes and respects the weight of the subject.


There is no barrier between the lover and the Beloved.

Hafez, lift yourself aside, you are yourself the covering over Self.”—Hafez


After reminding us that “The Real Light is Allah,” Al-Ghazzali then goes on to explain that one’s understanding of the light differs according to the degree one’s “consciousness is purged of the darkness of ignorance.” It’s an interesting statement—notice that he isn’t saying that the distinction is in the level of one’s consciousness, but by the degree that consciousness is purged of the darkness of ignorance.

This is quite consistent with Meher Baba’s teachings that tell us that even though the evolution of consciousness reaches completeness in the human form, that consciousness is not clear. Like dust on the surface of a mirror obscures and distorts the reflected image, impressions (Meher Baba calls them sanskaras), distorts and obscures the true reflection of the image of the soul. These impressions (sanskaras) are what Al-Ghazzali is calling the darkness of ignorance.

Regarding the relative difference of degree and quality of an individual’s consciousness, i.e., the degree and depth of darkness, Al-Ghazzali explains that “the word light is employed with a threefold signification: the first by the Many, the second by the Few, and the third by the Fewest of the Few.”

This too is quite consistent with Meher Baba’s teachings that distinguishes gross impressions from subtle and mental impressions—and the Ultimate state of consciousness with no impressions at all.

In The Niche For Lights, Al-Ghazzali then goes on to explain his threefold signification, but not before reminding us again that, “Allah is the highest and ultimate Light: and further, as the reality appertaining to each grade is revealed, that Allah alone is the Real, the True Light, and beside Him there is no light at all.”

Just a word here regarding the word Allah, though in more enlightened times it would not be necessary. But in these times, our time, the darkness being most dark and most dense, people argue about everything, make distinctions between everything, and hold steadfastly all their beliefs, notions, and ideologies, about everything. Allah is the state of God as Absolute,

Impersonal, Perfection. It is the same state that is called Almighty God, God in the Beyond state, Paramatma, Ahuramazda, Yezdan, etc.

Regarding the first signification, i.e., the degree of reality pertaining to the many, light is understood and experienced as a phenomenon.

Now a phenomenon, or appearance, is a relative term, for a thing necessarily appears to, or is concealed from, something other than itself; and thus, its appearance and its non-appearance are both relative. Further, its appearance and its non-appearance are relative to perceptive faculties; and of these the most powerful and the most conspicuous, in the opinion of the Many, are the senses, one of which is the sense of sight.

“Further, things in relation to this sense of sight fall under these categories: (1.) that which by itself is not visible, as dark bodies; (2.) that which is by itself visible, but cannot make visible anything else, such as luminaries like the stars and fire before it blazes up; (3.) that which makes itself visible and also makes visible, like the sun and the moon, fire when it blazes up, and lamps.”

There are several interesting points suggested here. The first is that duality is, as it were, baked into this signification of perception, i.e., the organ eye perceives phenomenon or appearance that is other than itself and further, this seeing is dependent on the subjectivity of the seer and not upon that which is being seen.

Of course, the seeing we are talking about is understood to mean, phenomenon or appearance whose frequency of vibration is in the range of perception accessible to the organ eye. But being a musician, I also wonder about how these classifications apply, or not, to vibration in the frequency ranges of our other organs of perception like the ear.

Can it be said, for example, that things in relationship to the sense of hearing also fall under these categories? (1.) that which by itself cannot be heard, like stone in a state of stasis, or (2.) that which by itself is audible, but cannot make audible anything else, like the sound of thunder, or (3.) that which makes itself audible and also makes audible, like a guitar or a piano makes audible the music of a great composer. I think, perhaps it does, but to return the question of light…

We have seen that the very essence of light is appearance to a percipient—that which is able to see—and that perception depends on the existence of two things (1) light and (2) a seeing eye. For although light is that which appears and causes to appear, it neither appears nor causes to appear to the blind. Thus, percipient spirit is as important as perceptible light, a necessary element of perception—actually the more important, in that it is the percipient spirit which apprehends and through which apprehension takes place; whereas light is not apprehensive, neither does apprehension takes place through it, but merely when it is present. By the word light, in fact, is more properly understood to be that visualizing light which we call the eye.”


What this boils down to is that in the first signification what is called light is dependent on the gross organ of perception that perceives it. Will it be the case, that in some later signification, light will not be dependent upon a perceptive spirit, but will be self-revealing, self-illumining, self-perceptive?

You must know, further, that the light of physical sight is marked by several defects. It sees others but not itself. It does not see what is very distant, nor what is very near, nor what is behind a veil. It sees the exterior of things only, not their interior; the parts, not the whole; things finite, not things infinite.

“It makes many mistakes in its seeing, for what is large appears to be small; what is far, near; what is at rest, in motion; what is in motion, at rest. These seven defects are inseparably attached to the physical eye. If then, there be such an eye that is free from all these physical defects, would not it, I ask, more properly be given the name of light?

“Know then that there is, in the mind of man, an eye that is characterized by just this perfection—that which is variously called Intelligence, Spirit, Human Soul…”

For Al-Ghazzali, seeing, light, knowledge, understanding, and consciousness are all inseparably connected and inseparably interdependent. Consciousness is light and the degree of consciousness—the intensity of the light—enables us to see, and know, and understand. With more light we see more and see more clearly, while with less light we see less, and see less clearly.  That said, are we not led to conclude, or at least to entertain the possibility, that given the collective state of our human consciousness that all we take to be true may not be true, or at least, not as true as the Ultimately True? Is there not a hierarchy of truths contained within the hierarchy of consciousness? In other words, many lights within the One light— “Light that is One though the lamps be many?”

There is a theory about dimensions that has persisted for ages which speculates that man sees himself and his universe in three dimensions, but that existence is not limited to just those three dimensions. Mathematically speaking, a point has no dimension, a line has one dimension, a plane has two dimensions, and objects and forms, like a cube, have three dimensions.  But if we could perceive a fourth dimension, what would that same object look like to us?

Now imagine a being that can only see the universe in two dimensions. They would only see the plane, in this case, a square, but not the cube. The theory of dimensions postulates that the unseen third dimension would be perceived by them as time—present to future, while for us seers of the third dimension, what we call time is just a hazy perception of the fourth dimension.  

What it all boils down to and is consistent with Al-Ghazzali’s statements, is that what we take to be seeing, light, knowledge, understanding, i.e., the truth available to the first signification is as distorted and incomplete as that of a two-dimensional being’s attempt to understand a three-dimensional universe.

You have now realized that there are two kinds of eye, an external and an internal, and that the former belongs to one world, the World of the Senses, while that internal vision belongs to another world altogether, the World of the Celestial Realm; and that each of these two eyes has a sun and a light whereby its seeing is perfected.”

The external eye and its extensions like the most powerful microscopes, the most powerful telescopes, and all manner of devices that expand the seeing of frequencies above and below the natural ability of the gross external eye, is limited to seeing, knowing, and understanding gross (external) phenomena, but the internal eye can see beyond the gross and glimpse the Celestial Realm.

How does the internal eye see? It sees by the light of a Celestial Sun and apprehends and comprehends “a Light that descends from above.” For Al-Ghazzali, that Light emanates from “the Koran and other inspired books of Allah.” What are other inspired books and teachings of Allah, i.e., Beloved God, Paramatma, Ahuramazda, Yezdan, etc.? Some would say the New Testament, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pali Text, the Torah, i.e., in other words, all words and teaching that come from the lips of God in the form of the Avatar and the words and teachings of all women and men who have become Perfect Masters.

What does the internal eye see? Al-Ghazzali says a Light that descends from above. But the above that Al-Ghazzali speaks of is not the above of physical space but the above of higher consciousness and that higher consciousness and the Celestial Sun it sees by is within. Meher Baba tells us the story of the musk deer who searches all over the world for the source of the delicious scent it smells, only to realize in the end that the scent was all the while emanating from its belly.

May the long time sun shine upon you,

All love surround you,

And the pure light within you,

Guide you all the way home.” – Incredible String Band


For Al-Ghazzali, light, knowledge, understanding, and seeing, are all different aspects of the same one consciousness, but that consciousness has different degrees and hence, light, knowledge, understanding, and seeing take many different forms.

Al-Ghazzali began by speaking about the light, knowledge, understanding, and seeing of the World of the Sense, the gross universe of forms that most of creation’s consciousness experiences. But then, after thoroughly discussing the characteristics and limitations of this World, Al-Ghazzali begins to speak of that which is beyond the World of the Sense; he calls it the world of the Realm Celestial, the World Supernal, the World of Spirit, the World of Light.

Regarding this World of Light he states, “But a man finds the doors of the Realm Celestial closed to him and does not become or belong to that World unless, ‘this earth and the visible heavens be changed into that which is not the earth and the visible heavens,’” in other words, an earth and heavens that transcends his gross senses.

Meher Baba spoke often about the processes of evolution, reincarnation, and involution of consciousness. Very briefly put, consciousness begins with evolution and the identification of the pure celestial soul with progressively higher and higher forms of creation, from stone to vegetable, to animal, and eventually, to the human form. With the achievement of the human form, the evolution of consciousness is complete, and the stage of reincarnation begins.

During the process of reincarnation, the dust of the journey of evolution is gradually loosened and sloughed off. When this dust, Meher Baba calls it sanskaras, is sufficiently loosened and thinned out, the process of involution begins. During involution, the gross impressions—gross sanskaras—become transmuted into subtle and then mental impressions, eventually to be shed completely. This process continues until all impressions have been sloughed off and only pure consciousness remains. The achievement of this state of pure consciousness without sanskaras is the experience that Al-Ghazzali calls the Realm Celestial.

Al-Ghazzali speaks about this stage of the journey in which the consciousness of the wayfarer begins to shift from the gross to the subtle, from the subtle to the mental, and eventually, from the mental to the Realm Celestial.

But the Realm Celestial is not accessible, unless, in short, all that comes within the ken of his senses and his imagination, including the visible heavens, comes to be his earth, and his heaven comes to be all that transcends his sense. This is the first Ascension for every Pilgrim who has set out on his journey to approach the Presence Dominical.”

Meher Baba calls this stage of the journey hawa. One who is in this state is permanently connected to the higher planes of consciousness but is not yet on them. He is, as it were, sitting between two chairs, i.e., in the world, but not quite of the world.

At this point in The Niche For Lights, Al-Ghazzali seems to digress into a discussion of Angels. But we shall see that the subject of Angels is no digression at all.

“Thus, mankind was consigned back to the lowest of the low and then must rise to the world of the highest height. Not so with Angels, for they are a part of the World of the Realm Celestial, floating ever in the Presence of the Transcendence, from where they gaze down upon our World Inferior.”

For me, the word consigned seems to imply fault or banishment, but I believe that this is not what is intended. Anytime there is a translation from one language to another, not to mention from one epoch to another, subtlety can be lost and implication can be misconstrued. Meher Baba’s explanation show no condescension or implication of fault. He explains it this way; The original state of the soul is without consciousness and must gain consciousness to know itself. For most souls, there is a decent from the unconscious state of God through the Mental World and then the Subtle World to the Gross World. For most souls, this descent is without any consciousness until, in the Gross World, consciousness is eventually acquired. The ascent of the soul, what Baba calls involution, retraces its steps through the Subtle and then the Mental Worlds to finally regain its Original state, but now with full consciousness.

 Regarding Archangels and Angels, Baba tells us that some few souls gain consciousness in and of the Mental World during their descent from the Original state and become Archangels, while those that gain consciousness in and of the Subtle World become Angels. Meher Baba further explains that Archangelic and Angelic consciousness is not God-Realization, and that God-Realization is the Goal. To achieve this final goal, Archangels and Angels must take one incarnation in the Gross World in the human form.

Again, the word Inferior seems to imply a negative, but reading further we see that Al-Ghazzali uses the term with reference to cause and effect. Speaking of those whose has achieved consciousness is of the Celestial Realm, he states:

I mean that from where he is, the causes of existing things descend into the World of the Sense; for the world of sense is one of the effects of yonder world of cause, resulting from it just as shadow results from a body or as fruit from which fructifies, or as effect is from a cause.”

The origin of cause is causeless. It is the original whim of God to know Himself. From this whim springs the three worlds of creation. Thoughts, feelings, and desires are aspects of the mind. These thoughts, feelings, and desires create cause which, empowered by the energy of the Subtle world, effect forms and action in the Gross world, therefore, “the causes of existing things descend into the World of the Sense; for the world of sense is one of the effects of yonder world of cause, resulting from it just as shadow results from a body or as fruit from which fructifies, or as effect is from a cause.”

Now the Prophets, when their ascents reached unto the World of the Realm Celestial, attained the utmost goal, and from thence looked down upon a totality of the World Invisible; for he who is in the World of the Realm Celestial is with Allah, and has the keys of the Unseen.”

In this case, the Prophets are those who have not only achieved the consciousness of Self/God, but also retain consciousness of creation and the mechanism of creation.

I mean that from where he is the causes of existing things descend into the World of the Sense; for the world of sense is one of the effects of yonder world of cause, resulting from it just as the shadow results from a body or as fruit from that which fructifies, or as the effect from a cause.”

Think of a movie projected onto a screen and watched by an audience. The audience does not see, is not aware of the film, the projector, the one whose is working the projector, or the one who created the film. In fact, most of the movie conscious souls become so involved in the movie that they are not even aware that they are watching a movie. Yet, The Realm Celestial and the World of the Sense are not separate entities, “For the thing compared is in some sort parallel and bears resemblance to the thing it is compared with, whether that resemblance be remote or near.”

However, what the parallel is and how one resembles the other is not a simple thing. In fact, it is “A matter again, which is unfathomably deep, so that whoever has scanned its inner meaning has had revealed to him the verities of the types in the Koran by an easy way.”

This last sentence is a bit puzzling to me—I would love to be able to read it in the original Arabic. But if I could speculate, the Koran does describe six major beliefs:

  1. Belief in the Oneness of God
  2. Belief in the Angels of God
  3. Belief in the Books of God
  4. Belief in the Prophets or Messengers of God
  5. Belief in the Day of Judgment
  6. Belief in the Divine Decree

Is Al-Ghazalli telling us that when one probes deeply the inner meaning of the World of Sense, one confirms by direct experience the truth of the six major beliefs?

The Koran also delineates different types of Muslims, the principal ones being Shia, Sunni, Wahhabi and Sufi. Again, is Al-Ghazzali telling us that when one probes deeply the inner meaning of the World of Sense one confirms by direct experience the inherent unity of all the various types of Muslims?

I said that everything that sees self and not-self deserves more properly the name of Light, while that which adds to these two functions the function of making the not-self visible, still more properly deserves the name of Light than that which has no effect whatever beyond itself. This is the light which merits the name of ‘Lamp Illuminant’, because its light is effused upon the not-self.”

The self and the not-self; let’s review the distinction. When God identifies Himself as the objects of His creation, in other words, when He identifies Himself with the beings in His movie being projected on His screen, He is identifying Himself with the illusion of objects and beings in the state of the evolution of consciousness. Then upon reaching the state of identification with the human form, He, as man and woman, experiences the states of reincarnation and then the involution of consciousness. Sufism defines several different levels of the illusory self, beginning with the lowest most selfish self and progressing, God willing, to the highest self that is one with the Prophets. This highest self is the only self that is not illusory.

Al-Ghazzali calls the capacity to see the self a function. Likewise, to see the not-self is also a function. The capacity to see the self and the not-self he calls Light. Remember that the Light of which he speaks is not what we generally call light—though it contains this light. Light, for Al-Ghazzali, also means intelligence and knowledge. And so, the two functions of seeing the self and the not-self do not suggest or imply that by his Light alone are the self and the not-self seen, understood, recognized by anyone else. It is only when a third function is added, the function he describes as the capacity to make the not-self visible, merits the name of ‘Lamp Illuminant.’

Al-Ghazzali then takes us further by asserting, “If it is proper to call that from which the light of vision emanates a ‘Lamp Illuminant’, then that from which the Lamp is itself lit may meetly be symbolized by Fire.”

We have seen that Al-Ghazzali uses the terms light and lamp in a broader but also a more detailed way then is commonly understood. In what way then does he use the term Fire?

Fire burns and fire heals. Fire destroys and fire transforms. Fire illumines. We say, “We make fire when we rub two sticks together,” but do we make fire, or do we manifest an unmanifest but always eternal element? Of course, we are speaking from the vantage point of terrestrial consciousness—from three-dimensional consciousness…

“Now all these Lamps Terrestrial were originally lit from the Light Supernal alone; and of the transcendent Spirit of Prophesy it is written that ‘its oil was well-nigh luminous though fire touched it not’; but becomes ‘verily light upon light’ when touched by Fire.”

So, lamps filled with oil can be lit by fire, but the oil of the supernal lamp is well-nigh self-luminous even before it is touched by fire. Interesting, the use of the word well-nigh; meaning the oil is nearly luminous, or very much the same as luminous?  Or again, is the use of the word an attempt to approximate a more subtle meaning in Arabic? …

Anyway, luminosity means that something has the quality that can make itself visible to something other than itself, but luminosity does not imply an ability to illume that which is other than itself. A subtle, yet important, distinction…

Assuredly then, the kindling source of those Spirits Terrestrial is the divine Spirits Supernal.”

By Spirits here, Al-Ghazalli is referring to a very high angelic manifestation akin to what we might call an Archangel.

Allah hath an Angel with seventy thousand countenances, each countenance having seventy thousand mouths, each mouth having seventy thousand tongues, with which he praises God most High.”

Suggested by this statement is the distinction that exists between God and the Angels, i.e., God as the only One worthy of worship. And so it is that,

These Spirits Celestial, then, if they be considered to be the kindling-source of the Lamps Terrestrial, can alone be compared with Fire.

And so, to summarize The Niche For Lights to this point; All light, synonymous with all knowledge, and consciousness, as well as all the forms of creation and creation itself, emanates from Infinite God—the Source of all and everything.

But between Infinite God and the all and the everything of creation there exists a ladder, so to speak, like Jacob’s Ladder of the Old Testament, and the rungs of this ladder represents a series of transformations of God’s Light into suitable forms for all of the various levels of creation—much like the current flowing from a power source must be transformed, i.e. reduced, to make it suitable for the individual use of the homes and businesses to which it flows.

The first transformation and manifestation of the highest Light of God is the Archangels—the Mental forms of Mental consciousness. But what lies between this Mental consciousness—the Mental World—and the Gross World that most of creations experiences?

After establishing the connection between the Celestial Lights and the Terrestrial Lights, Al-Ghazalli goes on to define the hierarchy of steps that connect them.

Now the analogy for this graded order in the world of sense can only be seized by one who sees the light of the moon coming through the window of a house, falling on a mirror fixed upon a wall, which reflects that light on to another wall, whence it in turn is reflected on the floor, so that the floor becomes illuminated there-from. In other words, the light upon the floor is owed to that upon the wall, and the light upon the wall to that in the mirror, and the light in the mirror to that from the moon, and the light of the moon to that from the sun.”

This beautiful analogy is so typical of the Sufi teachers of this era. It reminds me of the beautiful patterns seen in so many Persian carpets. The underlying pattern is very precise—very mathematical—and then it is dressed-up with wonderful forms and colors, themselves chosen in a very precise—very mathematical—manner.

The analogy helps us to understand that our understanding, our knowledge, our ‘seeing’ is far from that which we are attempting to fathom. How can three-dimensional thinking comprehend, let alone lay claim, to a Reality that is beyond all dimensions?

Ask yourself now whether the name Light is more appropriate to that which is illumined and borrows its light from an external source; or that which in Itself is luminous and the source of all illuminations beyond Itself?”

“Nay, I do not hesitate to boldly that the term ‘light’ as applied to aught else than the primary light is metaphorical; for all others, if considered in themselves, have, in themselves and by themselves, no light at all.”

Remember the quotations that began this discussion;

The stars and planets, Suns, and worlds, which are the shadows of shadows, though seen from a tremendous distance, appear so bright and dazzling. Then just imagine, can you? the brilliancy and splendor of the real Light (God).” - Meher Baba

The sun you see neither heats nor gives light.” – Upasani Maharaj

This same sentiment is echoed in the colorful words of G.I. Gurdjieff in his book, All and Everything—that the Sun, commonly understood as our source of “heat and light," is itself almost always freezing cold like the "hairless-dog" of our highly esteemed Mullah Nassr Eddin.

Seems to make more sense now than it did then…

Therefore, the Real Light is He in Whose hand lies creation and its destinies; He who first gives the light and afterwards sustains it.”

Al-Ghazzali reminds us that “the Real Light is He in Whose hand lies creation and its destinies; He who first gives the light and afterwards sustains it. He shares with no other the reality of this name, nor the full title to the same, save in so far as He calls some other by that same name, deigns to call him by it in the same way as a Liege-Lord deigns to give his vassal a fief and therewith bestows upon him the title of lord.”

Furthering the analogy, Al-Ghazalli states that at some point the vassal eventually comes to realize the truth, “that both he and his are the property of his Lord alone, a property shared by Him with no partner in the world.”

But the vassal does not come to this realization easily or without paying a heavy price, for to know without a doubt that one’s life is not one’s own, that one is but a custodian of all that has been given to him, including his very self, is the summit of self-effacement. This knowing can never be a matter of belief, or even conviction, it must be a matter of consciousness without a doubt!  But, as Kabir once said, “Until you experience it, it is not true.”

Try to imagine what that state would be—I find it to be unimaginable! Meher Baba was once asked what yoga he taught. His reply was “You go.” When one is gone, but still exists, that is the state of the vassal wo has realized, “that both he and his are the property of his Lord alone, a property shared by Him with no partner in the world.” I am sure that this state is impossible to achieve without the grace of a Perfect Master.

Meher Baba said that God Realization manifests in two distinct stages. The first is called Nirvana Samadhi and the second is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When perfected consciousness is no longer conscious of illusion, yet is still not conscious of Reality, that is the state of Nirvana. In this state, only consciousness is, in other words, consciousness is not conscious of anything—neither Nothing nor Everything. Imagine two perfect mirrors facing each other, what do they see?

 In the second state of Realization, consciousness becomes conscious of the Infinite—God—Self—Reality. This is the Goal. The vassal who realizes “that both he and his are the property of his Lord alone, a property shared by Him with no partner in the world,” is in the state immediately preceding the state of Nirvana. In Nirvana the vassal is no longer aware of his lord, his property, or even himself. In the state that follows Nirvana, the vassal experiences that he and his lord are one.

We are not we, but One!” – Meher Baba

In this state there is consciousness of Reality (the Everything), but not Illusion—creation—(the Nothing). For most this state marks the end of their journey, but for a few, their journey continues, and consciousness of Illusion is regained.  It should be noted that in this state consciousness of God is not lost. Al-Ghazzali explains that it is these rare souls who are heard to exclaim, “I am the One Real!” or “Within this robe is naught but Allah!”

I remember that Gurdjieff, in explaining the state of the average person, used the expression “Auspicious exterior, suspicious interior.” But in the case of one who has realized the Goal, the opposite is often the case, “suspicious exterior, auspicious interior.”

Or as Wordsworth put it, “Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie the soul’s immensity.”

After a brief discussion of whether one who has achieved the goal of Realization has become the goal or has become like the goal by virtue of being immersed in the goal, like iron becomes like fire when it is immersed in fire, but does not actually become fire, a controversy dear to the hearts of many Muslim scholars and practitioners, Al-Ghazalli then goes on to summarize his work to this point by saying,

Thus you see that the whole world is all filled with external lights of perception, and the internal lights of intelligence; also that the lower lights are effused or emanate the one from the other, as light emanates or is effused from a lamp; while the Lamp itself is the transcendental Light of Prophecy; and that the transcendental Spirits of Prophesy  are lit from the Spirit Supernal, as the lamp is lit from the fire; and that the Supernals are lit the one from the other; and that their order is one of ascending grades: further , that these all rise to the Light of Lights, the Origin and Fountainhead of lights, and that Allah, only and alone; and that all other lights are borrowed from Him, and that His alone is real light; and that everything is from His light, nay, He is everything, nay, He Is That He is, none but He has ipseity[1] or seity at all save by metaphor.”

In this statement, Al-Ghazalli is explaining that although God’s Everything includes the appearance of everything else, the two are linked by a hierarchy of steps by which the appearance of existence of that which is other than God is preserved and maintained.

I remember a conversation between Studs Terkel and the great classical guitarist Andre Segovia. Studs asked Segovia why after playing the guitar for more that seventy years, Segovia still practiced scales and exercises for two hours every day. Segovia replied, “Well Studs, I know I don’t have to remind you of the story of Jacob’s Ladder (the ladder that descended from heaven to earth), though the angels had wings to fly, they still ascended and descended the ladder step by step.” 

It is this hierarchy of steps that compose the various states of God that Al-Ghazzali is attempting to illumine in The Niche For Lights, and at the same time, constantly reminding us that these various states of God are God even though they may appear to the uninitiated as something other than God.

Therefore, there is no light but He, while all other lights are only lights from the Aspect which accompanies Him, not from themselves.”

The remainder of Al-Ghazzali’s treatise details the various degrees of individual consciousness of this Reality and its states. This is important because one who is limited to terrestrial consciousness might begin to question where he is in this whole hierarchy and even if he exists at all. For, as Kabir once said, “Until you experience it, it is not true.”

To paraphrase Meher Baba, there is nothing beside, above, below, or other than, God. But God exists in different states which are determined by the various degrees of consciousness of God. For example, human consciousness is a state of God, it is individualized consciousness, meaning that an identity cloaks the Reality of Infinite God. But, in the human form, this identity is false, yet has the potential to become Real. Identity is Real when consciousness identifies and becomes one with Reality—with its Reality. This is what is generally meant by the terms, God-realization, Self-realization, etc., and to experience this Reality is the whole purpose of creation.

"The pilgrim's progress in the involution of his consciousness consists in replacing one realm of imagination for a better and a higher level of imagination, right from the first to the sixth plane of involving consciousness. In the seventh plane the involving process is complete, imagination comes to an end and Reality is realized and is no longer a concept." - Meher Baba


Al-Ghazalli concludes, “Such is our account of the classes of the veiled by the Veils; and it were not strange, if, after all these Stations were fully classified and the veils of the Pilgrim’s Mystical were fully studied, the number of classes were found to amount to Seventy Thousand. Yet, if you look carefully, you shall find that of them all not one falls outside the divisions which we have set forth. For, as we have shown, they must be veiled by their own human attributes; or by the senses, imagination, discursive intelligence; or by pure light.”


And so typical of the Sufi mystics of the time he adds,


This is what has occurred to me by way of your questions, though these came to me at a time when my thought was divided, my mind preoccupied, and my attention given to other matters. Then may not my suggestion be that you ask forgiveness for me for anything wherein my pen has erred, or my foot has slipped? For it is a hazardous thing to plunge into the fathomless sea of divine mysteries; and hard, hard it is, to essay the discovery of the lights Supernal that are beyond the Veil.”


                                                                                                                  © copyright Michael Kovitz 2022   











[1] Ipseity is an interesting word, it suggests a state that includes not only the nature of all things, but also the self of all things. Seity defines that state as manifesting a quality peculiar to oneself, or self-hood, i.e., individuality.

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