The Alchemy of Happiness
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Pages (PDF): 63
Publication Date: This translation by Claud Field, 1909
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The Kimiya-yi Sa'ādat, or, Alchemy Of Happiness was an attempt to show ways in which the lives of a Sufi could be based on what is demanded by Islamic law. It has four principle parts; religious duties, salvation, human relations aspect of Islam and damnation.
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RENAN, whose easy-going mind was the exact antithesis to the intense earnestness of Ghazzali, calls him "the most original mind among Arabian philosophers." Notwithstanding this, his fame as a philosopher has been greatly overshadowed by Avicenna, his predecessor, and Averroes, his successor and opponent. It is a significant fact that the Encyclopædia Britannica devotes five columns to each of the others and only a column and a half to Ghazzali. Yet it is doubtful whether it is as a philosopher that be would have wished to be chiefly remembered. Several of his works, it is true, are polemics against the philosophers, especially his Tehafot-al-falasifa, or "Destruction of the philosophers," and, as Solomon Munk says in his Melanges de philosophie Juive et Arabe, Ghazzali dealt "a fatal blow" to Arabian philosophy in the East, from which it never recovered, though it revived for a while in Spain .and culminated in Averroes. Philosopher and sceptic as he was by nature, Ghazzali's chief work was that of a theologian, moralist, and mystic, though his mysticism was strongly balanced by common sense. He had, as he tells. us in his Confessions, experienced "conversion"; God had arrested him "on the edge of the fire," and thenceforth what Browning says of the French poet, Rene Gentilhomme, was true of him:
Human praises scare
Rather than soothe ears all a-tingle yet
With tones few hear and live, and none forget.
In the same work he tells us that one of his besetting weaknesses had been the craving for applause, and in his Ihya-ul-ulum ("Revival of the Religious Sciences") he devotes a long chapter to the dangers involved in a love of notoriety and the cure for it.
After his conversion he retired into religious. seclusion for eleven years at Damascus (a corner of the mosque there still bears his name--"The Ghazzali Corner") and Jerusalem, where he gave himself up to intense and prolonged meditation. But he was too noble a character to concentrate himself entirely on his own soul and its eternal prospects. The requests of his children--and other family affairs of which we have no exact information--caused him to return home. Besides this, the continued progress of the Ismailians (connected with the famous Assassins), the spread of irreligious doctrines and the increasing. religious indifference of the masses not only filled Ghazzali and his Sufi friends with profound grief, but determined them to stem the, evil with the whole force of their philosophy, the ardour of vital conviction, and the authority of noble example.
In his autobiography referred to above Ghazzali tells us that, after emerging from a state of Pyrrhonic scepticism, he had finally arrived at the conclusion that the mystics were on the right path and true "Arifin," or Knowers of God. But in saying this he meant those Sufis whose mysticism did not carry them into, extravagant utterances like that of Mansur Hallaj, who was crucified at Bagdad (A.D. 922) for exclaiming "I am the Truth, or God." In his Ihya-ul-ulum Ghazzali says: "The matter went so far that certain persons boasted of a union with the Deity, and chat in His unveiled presence they beheld Him, and enjoyed familiar converse with Him, saying, "Thus it was spoken unto us and thus we speak." Bayazid Bistami (ob. A. D. 875) is reported to have exclaimed, "Glory be to me!" This style of discourse exerts a very pernicious influence on the common people. Some husbandmen indeed, letting their farms run to waste, set up similar pretensions for themselves; for human nature is pleased with maxims like these, which permit one to neglect useful labour with the idea of acquiring .spiritual purity through the attainment of certain mysterious degrees and qualities. This notion is productive of great injury, so that the death of one of these foolish babblers would be a, greater benefit to the cause of true religion than the saving alive of ten of them."
For himself Ghazzali was a practical mystic. His aim was to make men better by leading them from a merely notional acquiescence in the stereotyped creed of Islam to a real knowledge of God. The first four chapters of The Alchemy of Happiness are a commentary on the famous verse in the Hadis (traditional sayings of, Muhammad), "He who knows himself knows God." He is especially scornful of the parrotlike repetition of orthodox phrases. Thus alluding to the almost hourly use by Muhammadans of the phrase, "I take refuge in God" (Na`udhib`illah!), Ghazzali says, in the Ihya-ul-ulum: "Satan laughs at such pious ejaculations. Those who utter them are like a man who .should meet a lion in a desert, while there is a fort at no great distance, and, when he sees the evil beast, should stand exclaiming, 'I take refuge in that fortress,' without moving a step towards it. What will such an ejaculation profit him? In the same way the mere exclamation, 'I take refuge in God,' will not protect thee from the terrors of His judgment unless thou really take refuge in Him." It is related of some unknown Sufi that when, asked for a definition of religious sincerity he drew a red-hot piece of iron out of a blacksmith's forge, and said, "Behold it!" This "red-hot" sincerity is certainly characteristic of Ghazzali, and there is no wonder that he did not admire his contemporary, Omar Khayyam.
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