Mystical Islam: Integrating the Left and the Right
The original post exploring the ’40 Rules of Love’ by the great Persian mystic and Sufi, Shams Tabrizi, has been the most viewed of all the posts on The Human Divine. The earlier blog, which is available here, only covers the first ten of the ‘rules’ though, so here’s the next ten of his observations, a continuation and elaboration of his teachings.
They can perhaps best be seen as an aid or companion to a mindfulness practice – a way of shifting the human brain from its current ‘left hemisphere’ mode (linear, functionalist, literal, useful but unreal) to a more right brain or ‘whole brain’ state – one grounded in the neurological and ontological primacy of the right hemisphere, which is the side of the brain that apprehends and delivers a more contextual, bodily, relational, and intuitive understanding of the world.
As psychiatrist and author Iain McGIlchrist notes, “one hemisphere, the right hemisphere, has precedence, in that it underwrites the knowledge of that the other comes to have, and is alone able to synthesise what both know into a usable whole”. The right hemisphere, he observes, has precedence not only in terms of “primacy of experience” (whatever we encounter that is new is experienced first by the right brain), but also in terms of “primacy of wholeness”, “the primacy of the implicit”, “primacy of broad vigilant attention”, “primacy of affect”, and “primacy of the unconscious will”. “What we know had to come into being first for the right hemisphere, since by definition at first it is new, and the right hemisphere delivers what is new as it ‘presences’— before the left hemisphere gets to re-present it”. It is for this reason that in his ground-breaking work on brain lateralisation McGilchrist refers to the right hemisphere as the ‘master’ and the left as the ’emissary’ (The Master and his Emissary).
Interestingly, in esoteric or mystical Kabbalah (which has historical links to Sufism), the central symbol, the Tree of Septhiroth (a diagrammatic representation of the process by which the Universe came into being), is also divided into a Left and Right side. As the scholar Manly Hall notes, “The Sephirothic Tree is sometimes depicted as a human body, Adam Kadmon. Kether is the crown of the Prototypic Head and refers perhaps to the pineal gland; Chochmah and Binah are the right and left hemispheres respectively of the Great Brain” (The Secret Teachings of All Ages; this work was written in 1928, which makes the observation even more striking).
In his remarkable visionary poem Jerusalem, William Blake refers to this secret theological system in which the universe is mapped onto and aligned with the occult meaning and structure of the human body (Adam Kadmon, or Microprosophus): “You have a tradition, that Man anciently contain’d in his mighty limbs all things in Heaven & Earth”.
Mindfulness or ‘wisdom’ is not about escaping the world, or about avoiding pain: it is about learning how to integrate our inner and outer worlds so as to be able to engage more directly and actively in them, and to understand our position in the world. Suffering and pain are part of this process, as the first of the rules here illustrates.
The 40 Rules of Love
11. The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.
12. There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the light of God pass through them.
13. Try not to resist the changes, which come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?
14. God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward realisation. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is a fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.
15. It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.
16. Real filth is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure waters, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.
17. The whole universe is contained within a single human being – you. Everything that you see around, including the things that you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan [“Devil” in Arabic, or what William Blake termed the principle of “Unbelief”] outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you set to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness.
18. If you want to change the ways others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself. Unless you learn to love yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.
19. Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That is the hardest part and that is what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.
20. We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.
For Part 1 of the 40 Rules of Love please click here. For Part 3 please click here. For Part 4 please click here.
Thank you for this gift.
Beautiful work filled with love, thank you❤
Maravilloso, es todo lo que desde el silencio de mi corazón siento y mucho más. Por favor, ¿cómo encuentro las siguientes 20 verdades?
Muchas gracias por estar en mi camino
Con amor Cecilia
Thanks so much for your very kind message, Cecilia. I’ll try and make a post for the following 20 truths very soon!