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October 12, 2018

Capturing the Experience

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Shaykh Ebrahim Discourse delivered 23/01/16. 

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

There’s a very useful saying from NLP, which says the map is not the territory. It stands to reason that if we had a large map of Pakistan on the carpet and there was a point on that map that said ‘Lahore’, and one of you stood on that point, you would not be in Lahore. You would be in a representation of Lahore. It’s entirely feasible that you could have the knowledge of a cartographer and know the particular map really well, and not have a clue what a day in Lahore is like. Similarly, and you’ve heard this before, a man can write a dissertation about the taste of honey, about the chemical components of sweetness and about the effect of sweetness on the human digestive tract, on the tongue and on your taste organs, and yet not know the taste of honey because he’s not had a single spoonful.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for learned discourses about honey, or there isn’t a place for cartographers, obviously there’s a place for these things. However, the endeavour that we’re busy with here is the endeavour of first-hand experience. It’s the endeavour of the taste of the honey, and of actually going to the city of Lahore. To achieve that end, we have to do something quite risqué, quite challenging. We have to allow ourselves to pursue the Divine encounter and first-hand proximity of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala beyond the nomenclature and the words of what we’ve been taught. It stands to reason that a man can know a lot about honey never having tasted it, so too a man can know a lot and recite a lot about the experience, but he cannot actually give his own account, because he’s not had it.

We have to allow ourselves to pursue the Divine encounter and first-hand proximity of Allah

So, the endeavour that we’re busy with here, the endeavour that this place is dedicated to, is in a sense a profoundly revolutionary one – revolutionary in the sense of a rebellious one. It is one where we are willing to overthrow the paraphernalia in order to find the experience, to find the essence.

Having been involved in this endeavour for many years, my experience is that for many people who are highly steeped in the nomenclature of tasawwuf, for them to actually experience something for real almost have to overthrow the language and have to be forced to recast their understanding in ordinary plain English, in their own language. Because otherwise what they’re having stays as regurgitated, semi-digested nonsense from somebody else. It is not based on their own first-hand experience.

This task of finding the jewel that is beyond the description – it doesn’t matter how profound the language is, even if it is Arabic, cannot capture the experience – that jewel, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala wants to give to you. But it has to be based on a discovery. And this discovery – in the nature of all discoveries – is the discovery of that which is surprising and new. It is not the old. You would’ve had this in terms of your own journeying, you would’ve found that you had an insight about how life works, how your attention works, how your relationship with people works, which at the time when you first see it is so surprising that the language you had to describe it before was just inadequate.

Shaykh Abu Madyan was famous for repeating to his murids ‘bring me fresh meat’. What he meant by this is, don’t bring me stuff that other people have chewed, digested and spat out. What is your unique insight? What is your unique experience? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reveals Himself to each one of us in a completely unique way because otherwise your individuality would not have a purpose.

You’ve got two responsibilities here. The first responsibility is to find the treasure, to find the experience that He’s made you uniquely to experience, you. The second thing, is that He requires you to give voice to that experience because once you’ve discovered the uniqueness, which is the jewel in the centre of your being, and you give voice to it, that voice is the ring of authenticity. And it is convincing – when people hear you they say ‘ah, but that’s it, that’s it, that’s the truth’. Not the truth because they’ve heard the same thing recited a hundred times from somebody else, or it comes out of a text, but because what comes out of your mouth is like living water. It is, ‘ah, that’s it, that’s the truth’.

Find the experience that He’s made you uniquely to experience, you.

So, if we consider His command to us in surat al ‘asr, ‘illa allatheena amanu wa ‘amilu saalihaat’ those who believe and do what is correct, ‘watawaasaw bil haqq watawaasaw bis sabr’. So, those who have the experience, and act accordingly – see the truth of the extraordinary reality that all of us are participating in the Divine Nature, and they act accordingly – bear witness to that truth to others. It’s not just the experience alone we are called to, but we’re also called to bear witness to the experience. But we first have to capture the experience. And I’m afraid that for most of us, this has to actually amount to a book burning of a kind.

There’s a reason why, when you get locked up in khalwa, you’re not permitted to take any text with you. Why? Because you’re trying to find the experience and text will just get in the way. By definition the experience is so vast, that you cannot capture it in words. It strikes you dumb. There’s an unlearning that has to happen first. There’s a stripping away that has to happen first.

You’re trying to find the experience and text will just get in the way.

A lot of the things that we have learnt have formed accretion on top of the experience because we’ve put our own youthful interpretation on the terms, even if they’ve been well explained to us. If you say, what’s a dog? Well, a dog is a four-legged predator. The words have created more words. Well, what’s a four-legged predator? Well, it’s a… and, and, and. So, there’s a circularity to it, it stays in the realm of language. Until you’ve been bitten by a dog, ‘ah, that’s a dog’.

May we all be bitten, so that next time we describe a dog, there’s a sense of conviction that comes out. This person knows what they’re talking about. These are not just words that beget more words, erudition that begets more erudition. This is real experience. Very often, you can sit in the presence of somebody without them saying a word, and you know that they know. You see it in the glance of an eye, you see it in their posture, you see it even in the person’s handshake, you see it in how he drinks his tea.

This reality that we’re after, its essence is transmissive. It goes from heart to heart. And the essence of that transmission is not just an insight, it’s the experience of safety, it’s the experience that the Ally is real, that He exists, that He has made you the beloved of existence. This is not speculative – you experience it like you experience the lasting grace of the person you love most.

 

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