In a nutshell, the rise and fall of empires and civilizations can be attributed mainly to hubris. It is hubris which is the primary cause of all other sins. If we are to resort to biblical allusions, Satan became Satan solely due to hubris. The opposite of hubris is humility, which in turn is the primary cause of all goodness in human relations. Hubris is thus the characteristic or trait that is most destructive. As stated in Proverbs 16:18-19: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall; It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
To overcome hubris, one must first overcome mere appearances and illusions in order to attain certainty and truth, which can only be attained through embarking on a path of contemplation, meditation, fasting, and prayer according to a number of faith traditions. Even in Western philosophy, the “Two-World Theory” which originates from the Platonic tradition suggests a dichotomy between true being on one hand and mere appearance on the other hand. As Immanuel Kant wrote: “If we look upon the world as appearance, it demonstrates the existence of something that is not appearance.” Plato also argued that contemplation and meditation are the only conduits available through which one can acquire cosmic knowledge. On one hand, there is cosmic knowledge, and on the other hand there is material knowledge. Cosmic knowledge is rarely acquired through scholastic knowledge.
Heidegger considered certainty and truth to be a disclosure or revelation to the seeker after a certain amount of contemplation and meditation. Heidegger used the term “aletheia” to describe this disclosure or revelation. Meditation and prayer, work, asceticism, and divine friendship make up the four-step process towards achieving what Heidegger called “aletheia.” In the end, attaining divine friendship or trust enables one to performs deeds and to speak words that are impossible for ordinary people. After all, friendship and love are the highest values and virtues for mankind. Since these values and virtues are rarely found between human beings, one must turn inward and connect to a higher source – or a primordial spirit – for the attainment of these values and virtues.
Achieving the two highest values and virtues – namely, friendship and love – translates into sainthood (wilaya’). One sustains sainthood through adhering to a set of basic characteristics or principles. There are essentially three basic characteristics or principles in the way of sustaining sainthood, according to the great Sufi Mystic Ali Hujwiri:
- Obeying the basic commandments of meditation, prayer, fasting, and charity
- Kindness and justice towards elders, children, youth, and peers
- Abstention from devilish acts and sins
Adhering to these three characteristics and principles – in conjunction with service to one’s community and society, along with asceticism – enables one to achieve sainthood. Once sainthood is achieved, service is annulled, although many saints have continued their service to their communities and societies even after achieving sainthood.
In many cases, saints are not known to one another, and in some cases, saints are not even known to themselves. Saints are largely unknown to the rest of mankind, but in some cases, people can identify them and celebrate them. There are basically three scenarios pertaining to the recognition of saints. In one scenario, Saints are aware of their own sainthood but others are not. In another scenario, others are aware of a person’s sainthood, but the saint is unaware of his or her sainthood. In the final scenario, both the saint and people are aware of one’s sainthood.
Saints are believed by some to be chosen for sainthood, and the prevailing idea within a number of faith traditions is that personal effort and volition alone do not suffice to achieve this state. But in order to attain sainthood, one must not desire to attain anything else. Thus, there is an element of striving in the attainment of sainthood in conjunction with being fit for the job. One must keep their eye on the ball at all times.
Also, at any period of time, there are approximately four-thousand saints scattered around the world. When one saint passes away, another takes his or her place. Existence is contingent upon the existence of saints. By logic, if there are no saints, then nothing else can exist. Resting above the global population of saints is a hierarchy of about 300 to 400 people who are led by a “Spiritual Pole” (Qutb) who connects the material plane to the cosmic plane. Those within this hierarchy know one another and are aware of the four-thousand or so saints who are scattered around the world, whereas saints neither know one another nor are they aware of their sainthood in many cases.
But ultimately, what distinguishes the saint from everyone else is a theological outlook. For the saint, existence is a direct manifestation of God. Everything is seen by the saint through a pantheistic prism, whereas the ordinary man either denies God’s proximity to existence or views God as a far-off deity. Thus, the thoughts, words, and actions of the saint are the direct manifestation of God’s will on earth, whereas the ordinary man either denies or fears the divine will. Because the will of God and the will of the saint are one and the same, it follows that: “Whoever is at war with God’s saint is at war with God.” Let us ponder upon this.