PREFACE to "Secrets of the Self" (1915)
recently republished from a "forgotten edition" of this early Persian collection:
asraar-e ;xvudii faraamosh-shudah i;Diishan , ed. by shaa))istah ;xaan (New Delhi: Maktabah Jamia, 1993)

translated from the Urdu by Mohamad Khan and Haroon Moghul, May 2007
and slightly edited by FWP

[*PAGE 1*] This oneness of feeling, or enlightened point of consciousness, by which all human imaginings, emotions, and hopes are illuminated; this mysterious thing, which is the stitch-binding of human nature’s diffuse and limitless character; this 'I', this 'self', this 'ego', which is the creator of all things witnessed, albeit whose fineness prevents it from being itself witnessed — what is this thing? Is it an eternal reality? Or is it simply the case that life has contingently made itself evident, in the guise of a trick of the mind or an instructive lie, for the sake of the attainment of its immediate goals? With regard to ethics, a person's and community's manner of action is dependent on this extremely relevant question. [*PAGE 2*] And this is the reason that there won't be any community in the world whose wise men and scholars haven't, in one way or another, wracked their brains to create an answer to this question. But the answer to this question does not depend so much on the mental capabilities of these persons and peoples as on the inclination of their temperament. The philosophically-minded peoples of the East have largely inclined to this result: namely, that the self is simply a trick of the imagination, and the removal of this noose from around the neck is called salvation. The Western peoples' taste for action has taken them towards the kind of results that their nature demanded.

In the Hindu community's heart and intellect, actions and theories have been mixed in an extraordinary way. This community's hair-splitting sages have done tremendously minute investigation of the reality of the power of action. And finally they have arrived at the result that this sequentially witnessed life of the self, which is the foundation of all pains and problems, is [*PAGE 3*] declared to be action. Or put it like this: the extant conditions and necessities of the self are the necessary result of its past manner of action, and so long as this law of action does its work, those same results will continue to be produced. When Faust,the hero of Germany’s famous nineteenth-century poet Goethe, reads 'action' in place of 'Word' in the first chapter of the Gospel of John ('In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God'), then in reality his perspicacious glance notices that point which Hindu sages had seen centuries before. In this extraordinary manner, Hindu sages had untangled the knot of the full scope of destiny and human freedom — or in other words, of preordination and free will. And there's no doubt that, from a philosophical point of view, their inventiveness is worthy of praise. And especially for this reason: that with great moral courage [*PAGE 4*] they also accept all the philosophical consequences produced by this issue. That is, when the self is determined by action, then there's only one means of escaping from the noose of the self — the renunciation of action. This conclusion was extremely dangerous for both the individual and the group, and thus called for the appearance of a renewer, who would clarify the true understanding of the renunciation of action. In the intellectual history of humanity, the name of Shri Krishna will always be taken with courtesy and respect — that this great man, in an extremely captivating way, criticized his land and people's philosophical traditions, and made the truth apparent that the renunciation of action is not the renunciation of everything. Because action is a requirement of nature, and through it arises life’s stability. Rather, by renunciation of action is meant that there should be absolutely no attachment of the heart to action and its results. After Shri Krishna, Shri [*PAGE 5*] Ramanuja also walked on this path; but it's a pity that the bride of meaning whom Shri Krishna and Shri Ramanuja sought to unveil, was again veiled by Shri Shankar[acharya]'s logical enchantments. Shri Krishna's community were left deprived of the fruit of his renewal.

In western Asia, the Islamic movement too was an extremely powerful message of action, although according to this movement the "self" is a created thing that can become incorruptible through action. But in the investigation and scrutiny of the problem of the self, in the intellectual history of Muslim and Hindu scholars there is one remarkable similarity. And that is this: that the intellectual point from which Sri Shankar[acharya] produced his commentary on the [Bhagavad] Gita — from that same intellectual point, Shaikh Muhyi ad-Din ibn 'Arabi al-Andalusi produced his commentary on the Qur'an, which had a tremendously deep effect on Muslims' hearts and minds. [*PAGE 6*] Shaikh Muhyi ad-Din’s knowledge, virtue, and forceful personality made the 'oneness of being', on which he was a tireless commentator, an inseparable element of Islamic thought. Awhad ad-Din Karmani and Fakhr ad-Din al-'Iraqi were extremely influenced by his learning, and gradually all the Persian poets of the fourteenth century were colored by his thought. How could the sensitive temperament and delicate character of the Iranian people have endured the burden of this long intellectual labor, which is necessary to arrive at the whole from the part? They crossed the difficult ground from the part to the whole with the aid of an intermediary stretch of the imagination: in [poetic references to] the 'vein of the lamp' they witnessed, without any connection, the 'blood of the sun'; and in the 'spark of the stone', the '[divine] glory/manifestation of Mount Tur [Sinai]'.

In short, in establishing the problem of the 'oneness of being', the Hindu sages made the mind their addressee. But the Iranian poets, in commenting on this problem, have adopted a more dangerous [*PAGE 7*] approach: that is, they have made the heart their target. Eventually the result of their beautiful and elegant subtilizings was that when this problem reached the common people, it deprived almost all the Islamic communities of the taste for action. Probably Ibn Taymiyya among the scholars, and Wahid Mahmud among the sages, were the first who raised the voice of exigency against this all-seizing movement of Islamic thought. Mulla Muhsin Fani Kashmiri, in his book The School of Creeds, has written a brief account of this sage, from which a complete estimate of his views cannot be formed. Ibn Taymiyya’s powerful logic certainly had some sort of effect, but the truth is that the dryness of logic cannot compete with poetry’s heart-stealing quality.

Among the poets, it was [the Persian poet] Shaikh 'Ali Hazin who said that "Sufism is good for versification," [*PAGE 8*] and thus testified to his awareness of the reality of the situation; but in spite of this, his works bear witness to the fact that he could not remain protected from the effects of his surroundings. Under these conditions, how would it have been possible for Islamic thought in Hindustan to safeguard its taste for action? [The Indo-Persian poet] Mirza Bedil has given his heart to the pleasure of rest to such a degree that even a movement of the glance is unpalatable to him:

There are subtleties within the embrace of bewilderment's house of mirrors.
Do not strike your eyelashes together, lest you should destroy the show’s colour.

And [the Urdu poet] Amir Mina'i gives this teaching:

Look at whatever comes before you, and do not speak from your mouth,
Produce a mirror-eye, a picture-mouth.

The Western peoples are distinguished among the peoples of the world with regard to their power of action, [*PAGE 9*] and for this reason their literature and ideas are for the people of the East the best guides to understanding the mysteries of life. Although the modern philosophy of the West begins with the system of the unity of existence of a Jewish philosopher of Holland [Spinoza], it was action’s colours that prevailed in the West. Reinforced by the deductive method of mathematics, the enchanted world of the problem of the 'oneness of being' remained stable for a long while. It was in Germany that emphasis was first given to the human ego’s individual reality; and slowly, by virtue of the taste for action possessed by the sages of England in particular, the philosophers of the West were freed from the effect of this enchanted world of the imagination. Just as there are senses specific to colour, smell, etc., there is another sense in human beings that ought to be called the 'sense of events'. Our life depends on witnessing the events around us, correctly understanding [*PAGE 10*] from them their cognitive content, and adorning ourselves with actions. But how many of us avail ourselves of this sense that I have conveyed by using the term 'sense of events'? Events are born and will continue to be born from within the mysterious womb of Nature's order, but before Bacon, who knew that present events — which the philosophers who have given their hearts to theory view with a look of disdain — keep veiled within them a precious treasure-chest of realities and knowledges? The truth is that all of the peoples in the world are indebted to the practical sagacity of the English people, for in this people the sense of events is sharper and more developed than in the other peoples of the world. It is for this reason that to this day no system of philosophy that sports with the mind and is unable to bear the sharp light of well-known events has been accepted onto English soil. Furthermore, the writings of the sages of England [*PAGE 11*] are at a special level among the literatures of the world, and are fit to be taken by Eastern hearts and minds for their benefit, in order that they may review their own ancient philosophical traditions.

This is a brief sketch of the history of the problem that is the subject of this poem. I have endeavoured to free this subtle problem from the complexities of philosophical proofs and to dye it in imagination’s colours, so that it may become easy to understand and reflect upon this reality. This preface is not meant to provide a commentary on the poem, but merely to provide a road-sign to those who are not already familiar with the minutiae of this reality. I am certain that this purpose will be served by the above lines. There is no need to say anything about this poem from a poetic point of view. The poetic imagination is merely a means of drawing attention to the reality [*PAGE 12*] that the pleasure of life, the individual capacity of the ego, is bound up with its affirmation, fortification, and expansion. This point will serve as a prologue to the understanding of the reality of the problem of life after death.

Yes—with regard to the word 'self', it is necessary to apprise the audience that it has not been used in this poem in the sense of 'vanity', as it normally is in the Urdu language. Its meaning is simply the sense of self, or the individuation of the essence. This is also its meaning in its compound 'self-lessness', and it is likely that the meaning of the word 'self' is the same in this [Persian] verse by Muhsin Tasir:

Due to the 'self', the one drowning in the sea of unity did not breathe,
amidst the waters, it was impossible to draw breath.


--Muhammad Iqbal


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