Ultimately, intellectuality and the exercise of the intellect cannot leave out an assessment of the intellect itself. One can argue that the intellect has two components or dimensions. For one, there is the intellect of the mind which is hardened through armchair and ivory tower intellectualism. And then, there is the intellect of the heart, which is far more complex and subtle than the intellect of the mind. It is said that while the eye of the mind has limits to what it can see, the eye of the heart can see everything and is based on intuition.
Reality – which equates to the totality of all things that exist – is best explored through the intellect of the heart rather than the intellect of the mind, given that the intellect of the mind stops at the limits of its empirical methodology. In the Sufi tradition, the exploration of reality is known as Kashf, which translates into “unveiling.” Also, the “unveiling” of the “ultimate reality” (Kashf) occurs in stages rather than suddenly.
The Greek term for Kashf is Aletheia, which also translates into “disclosure” or “unconcealment.” The term Aletheia was made popular in the 20th century by the German Philosopher Martin Heidegger. Each stage of Kashf – or Aletheia – brings a certain level of confirmation regarding the ultimate reality or truth of existence. And at the root of the “unveiling” is contemplation, along with dream work and imagination. Books and asceticism are the key tools for this “unveiling” process.
Although the “unveiling” process is a painful and torturous one, the reward for going through the pain is satisfying. As Rumi wrote in a poem titled “Undressing”:
Learn the alchemy true human beings know:
the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets
that serve to cover, then are taken off.
and the naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.
Before the “unveiling” of the ultimate reality, however, is the “unveiling” of the self. As Rumi wrote: “This is the essence of all sciences – that you should know who you will be when the Day of Reckoning arrives.” The true self is “unveiled” after the “annihilation of the ego” (Fana), which in the Sufi tradition equates to the first of two deaths. For one, there is a literal birth and a literal death, and on the other hand there is a figurative birth and a figurative death which occurs as a result of Aletheia or Kashf. As William Shakespeare wrote in his “Dark Lady Sonnets”:
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Fool’d by these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
The ‘effacement of the ego’ (Fana) as the cure for spiritual illness and the impetus for a figurative rebirth is also alluded to in George Sterling’s “Wine of Illusion”:
I saw One clad in opalescent grey, Who held a crystal cup within her hands
In which a sun was deathless. Mighty wands
Shook as the spears of starlight in each ray, And where they smote the darkness was as day,
And where they smote not, night was on the lands.
Below her feet dead stars were strewn like sands, And in her wings the constellations lay.
“Of this have all men drunken deep,” she said.
“Drink this or perish. There is naught beside. This is the draught that fashions men from swine, And though thy heart deny me in its pride, Yet of my cup of dreams its blood is red
And thy lips red with my creative wine!”
Thus, one can legitimately argue that the development of the intellect is a matter of experience rather than a matter of bookishness, although books do help in the facilitation of Aletheia or Kashf to a certain extent. As Albert Einstein said: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” In turn, experience – and thus true knowledge – cannot be effectively communicated to an audience unless the audience has gone through a similar experience. Hence, the contrast and the difference between an empirical approach on one hand and the phenomenological approach towards knowledge and information on the other hand.