Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Ego, al-Nafs, The Id...

Peace, one and all...
Most of the world's great religious traditions have had something to say on the nature of the soul. Most of these faiths have attempted to define, debate and defend a wide range of doctrines. Buddhism, for example, advances the claim that there is no essential 'self', merely a collection of mental constructs of one sort or another.
Given the fundamental differences between the world's religions, agreement and consensus are probably impossible to achieve. However, I would hazard the view that where all such faiths do agree is on the need to overcome the base desires of the ego. The ego is that part of ourselves that seeks recognition for its existence: when properly attuned it can help a person to forge a creative path in the world. When in a state of imbalance, the ego can become a selfish tyrant, particularly unyielding to the subtleties of faith.
I was reading some of Mevlana Rumi's reflections on the ego today shortly before the evening prayer. The first passage runs as follows:
'A conceited person sees some sin,
and the flames of Hell rise up in him.
He calls that hellish pride defence of the Religion;
he doesn't notice his own arrogant soul'
(Mathnawi I.3347-3348)
Hmm...how true! Here's passage two:
'I'm the devoted slave
of anyone who doesn't claim
to have attained dining with God
at every way station.
Many inns must be left behind
before you reach your home'
(Mathnawi I.3259-3261)
Again, a perceptive remark. And, yet from my perspective, how I would love to reach even the first inn on the road! Bi ithnillahi ta'ala!
During prayer, I became aware that the two chapters of the Quran I had chosen to recite both had a bearing on the ego (or nafs, to give its Arabic name). The first chapter I recited was Surat al-`Asr (or 'Time'):
'By Time, Indeed all humanity is in a state of loss, except those who believe and do good deeds and join together in the mutual enjoining of truth and the mutual enjoining of patience and constancy'
The second passage was Surat al-Quraysh. This chapter reminds the Quraysh tribe of Mecca that it is God who ensures their safety and prosperity and that it is He who feeds them (and clothes them too). They (and all humankind) are then instructed to 'Worship the Lord of this House'. The House in question is, of course, the Ka'ba and its Lord is, again of course, Allah.
In other words, both the poems and the Quranic ayat point beyond; that is, to God - who alone is the Truth/Reality and is Exalted far above our selfish egos.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

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