The forgotten path of knowledge – Maulana Shah Abdul Aleem Siddiqui RA

The subject under discussion is “The Forgotten Path of Knowledge”. We would, therefore, start by defining the word “Knowledge”. We would define it as “clear perception of a truth or a fact”. Again, “Knowledge” is not an “end”, but a “means” to an end, and the immediate human end seems to comprise the acquisition of “good” and the avoidance of “evil”.

To know and to understand is a natural yearning in man. As regards human consciousness and powers of perception, there are two distinct levels. One is that of direct perception or intuition where logical categories play no part. The other is that which is founded on sense-perception and theoretical reason. Now, as regards consciousness, recent scientific investigation has led us to the belief that it does not only exist in human beings, but is also to be found in some form among animals, among plants, and even among the stones. The behaviour of the newly born fish as regards swimming and the behaviour of the cub to pounce upon the prey, leads us to the belief that they have been gifted by God with some form of consciousness. Similarly, the presence of the qualities of attraction and repulsion in certain plants gives us to understand that they, too, possess certain form of consciousness. To call such activity instinctive does not negate the existence of consciousness.

The human consciousness seems to be a richer variety. The human child is without doubt different from the offspring of other forms of creation. Its powers of perception and action do not appear to be so well set as those of the other species. But its struggle to harmonise its consciousness and activity with its environment begins soon after its birth. It opens its eyes and tries to see. It moves its hand and tries to grasp. It focuses its attention and wants to hear. That is, it brings into play its powers of sensation and perception, and tries to develop them in the light of its consciousness, The more these powers develop, the greater becomes his yearning to know things, until the ignorant child of yesterday becomes a great scientist or a great philosopher, talking about all things of the heavens and the earth and passing his judgment upon them. In connection with this discussion of the different levels of knowledge I might relate here a simple incident. During my travels, I once visited the famous botanical gardens situated in Kandy, in the historic town of Ceylon. Some of my friends were also there with me along with their children who were of different ages. According to the rules, no one could pluck flowers. But children are not, as a rule, very law-abiding in such matters. Hence, a child who was six or seven years old plucked a rose flower, brought it to his father, and questioned him about it. This fondness for questioning among children is proof of the inherent yearning for knowledge existing in man. The father informed the child that it was a rose. This answer made the child happy. He had received a new piece of information. With pride he showed it to other children, saying: “See, it is rose.” That flower was red in colour.

In the meantime, another child rushed towards a flower bed and plucked a flower, which was similar in form but possessed yellow colour. He, too, brought it to his father and asked him what it was. The father told him that it was a rose. Now, this other child was a bit older than the first one. He, therefore, enquired how both flowers could be called by the same name while their colours were different. The father could not give a satisfactory reply. But the Superintendent of the garden, who was an Englishman, explained to the boy that one was the Indian variety, while the other was Australian. All the children seemed to be gratified and happy at this further piece of knowledge and started remarking about the beauty and the smell. Presently, one elderly boy asked the Superintendent about the use of those flowers. The Superintendent was still searching for a reply when a Maulvi Saheb (scholar), who had accompanied us, remarked that people prepare rose water and use it in religious assemblies and social functions for the sake of its fragrance. A statement followed this remark from an herbal doctor who informed that rose leaves were good for removing constipation and strengthening the heart. The Superintendent, who had kept quiet all the while, suddenly plucked a fresh flower and informed the children that there were pairs among flowers also, pointing out to the male and the female flower. The children were ultimately thrilled by all that information. All the informants gave the information according to the extent of their knowledge. Had there been some eminent botanist or chemist among them, he would have given still further and higher information about the chemical constituents and properties. But all those who were there were enjoying the little discussion, and, finding them in their enjoyment, I asked them: “Did these flowers come into existence by themselves, or someone else created them?” There were different answers. Among the agencies held responsible, were mentioned: the planter, the sower, the irrigator, and the “mother earth”. But when questioning ultimately exhausted the material causes, all cried out that God created them.

This was a new conception, a conception of reality, which is above and beyond the chain of causes, which is the uncaused First Cause. And how did we arrive at it? We arrived by considering the physical world itself and by plunging into the problem of its origin. Our investigation into the physical phenomena ultimately led us to God.

At this point I invited the attention of my friends to the fact that if the rose flower was so enchanting, how beautiful and perfect must be He Who made it, Who brought it into existence?

The little children who were with me could not show much interest in this because of their limited intelligence and undeveloped consciousness. But the elderly persons became thoughtful and appreciated the point. Now, in this garden which we call the world, is it not a fact that there are persons who, in spite of their powerful intellects and their claim to be expert physicists and metaphysicists, behave no better than the children whom I referred to just now, contented and happy with the knowledge of a few properties of a few flowers, or, to use the words of a great scientist, “a few pebbles on the shore”?

Today, the teachers of natural science hardly tell their students anything about the Great Architect who made all the things they investigate, and our great colleges and laboratories of science have simply ruled out the very thought of the Supreme Creator. In the discussions of moral philosophy we come across sometimes the idea of God, and certain schools of metaphysics refer to His Existence. But is there any school, any University, any Laboratory, which devotes itself to the Really Real, to the discussion of His Attributes and His Person, and to the knowledge of the ways and means of attaining nearness to Him? If such institutions do not exist, (and they do not exist in fact), would it not be true to say that those who claim to possess great intellects are actually behaving like children? They are playing with the toys and running after the shadows, and have abandoned the search for the Great Reality which should have been their goal of investigation. And, not only have they forsaken the road which leads to the knowledge of God, they have also forgotten the deeper paths which lead to the true understanding of human personality itself.

Before his death, Aristotle left an advice for posterity and ordered it to beinscribed on the walls of his academy. Other great men, before him and afterhim, gave the same advice.

The advice was “O Man know thyself!”The purpose of the advice was and is that we should try to understand our ownselves, should discover and cultivate those powers which have been given to usfor penetrating the reality of things, and should ultimately attain to theknowledge of God.But how many are those in the world who pay their attention to this problemtoday? People do go to the houses of worship. But in most cases their approachis formal and ritualistic. Do they achieve the end for which worship has beeninstituted? Are there any persons who have devoted themselves to theseproblems?Dear readers! The importance which a thing enjoys in human life, its knowledgeshall also enjoy the same importance, and those who possess that knowledgeshall also be graded accordingly.Similarly, if man is superior to all created things, the importance and status ofthe knowledge which relates to him and the possessors of that knowledge, mustbe assessed accordingly.

There are two aspects of the knowledge about man. One aspect is physical, andrefers to his physical constitution, nutrition and the abnormalities to which hisphysique becomes subject sometimes. This last item of investigation gives birthto the science of medicine. Those who devote themselves to this science arecalled physicians. There is no doubt that the science of human cure is a noblescience and ranks high in importance and those who devote themselves to italso deserve great respect if their motive is that of service.But, here a question arises: “is man only an aggregate of bones and flesh?” If itis so, even the dead man possesses flesh and bones. But we call him a deadbody, and do not consider him the whole man. Our very first thought about adead human body makes us feel that there was something essential which is nomore there. That something was life. And we are sure that it is not only the fleshand the bones but life also which combined together can be properly calledman.

Now, what is life? When we speak this word, we are confronted with a numberof conceptions, and the fact is that we, in spite of all our scientific researches,have so far failed in discovering the “reality of life.” The word “soul” is only aname. What the soul actually is and how it is to be defined, the scientific worldhas not succeeded so far in telling us that.Our great scientists are silent on this problem. Either they are, so to say, playingwith external things and do not pay attention to the basic reality at all, or theypay attention and find themselves incompetent.Huxley, who enjoys a distinct status in the fields of science and philosophy,admits in clear words that: “About the soul we cannot say anything more thanthat it is the name of a supposed state”.We might now ask: if we fail in discovering our own reality by empirical meansand if we feel contented with that failure, can we be regarded to have beenfaithful to the natural yearning for knowledge existing in us? This yearningrequires us not to confine our efforts to certain preconceived means but toemploy all other means available. For, without that basic knowledge, we canneither consider ourselves nor our knowledge as perfect.

If we go further, we come across the next problem, that is, the problem ofknowing the great “source of life” or, in the language of Sir Oliver Lodge, theUnknown. That is the point where the scientists and the philosophers stop,after their strenuous search of causal connection, and at best describe it as theCause of all causes or the Primary Intellect.The fact is that there are numerous universities in the world. They haveseparate faculties for teaching the various subjects like history, geography,physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. They have separate laboratories forscientific research. But is there any such university or college or school whereman could receive proper instruction about the reality of his “Inner Self”, andabout the “Great Reality” which pervades the whole universe? How can thegates of this knowledge be opened? Where can we find the Path of thisKnowledge?Allow me to say, and to say with all the force at my command, that there is onlyONE Institution where this knowledge can be obtained, namely, the Institutionof Revealed Religion.

The information, which is given to us there, is not based on whim and fancy,guess and conjecture, sense-perception and logical deduction. Nay, that Path ofKnowledge is entirely different. It is a path of direct perception. The knowledgeemanates from the “Great Reality” and descends upon the human heart in aspecial spiritual manner. We have, of course, the right to judge it with ourreason and to see to it that it is not mere ‘dogma’ or ‘mystery’ but somethingreal and true, whenever anyone gives it to us and claims that he has received itdirect from God.However, before accepting it, my readers shall surely like to know the nature ofWahy (Revelation) and Ilham (Inspiration). They would like to understand thatthey are not synonymous with superstition but something tangible and real.They would further like to know the criterion with which to judge thegenuineness of certain claims regarding Revelation. Then, they would like toknow whether Revelation has reference only to the world of ‘abstract things’ orwhether it can also relate to our practical life and can contribute to our practicalwell-being. If it is so, it will become necessary to pay attention to it and to takepractical steps for the acquisition of that knowledge. The acquisition of thatknowledge will further necessitate a complete and comprehensive course ofInstruction.So far we have been trying to rediscover the “Forgotten Path of Knowledge”.Now we shall probe into the nature of Divine Revelation and SpiritualPerception and the ways and means relating to them.We have been blessed with different organs for the purpose of knowing materialthings, and every one of these organs has a distinct function.

With regard tothese organs the physiologist finds himself confronted with a very vitalquestion, namely, whether they are self-motivated, or they are merely mediumsfor some faculty which works behind them.When we consider these organs we find that they have different functionsdivided among them. Every individual organ performs only that function forwhich it is meant, and this “specialisation of function” exists in such rigid formthat if a certain organ is compelled to perform some function for which it is notmeant, it will not perform it and will, moreover, get spoiled very soon. Thus, thetongue only tastes and does not see; the eyes only see and do not smell; the earsonly hear and do not speak; the hands only grip and cannot perform thefunction of the feet.Now, we are confronted with a question: Do we ever experience any such statein our life when our consciousness is active and we have perceptions while ourorgans of knowledge are inactive? I would remind you in this connection ofyour state when, after the day’s toil, you are resting on your soft bed, your eyesare closed, your hands and feet are enjoying a well-earned repose, your ears areindifferent to the sounds vibrating around them, your muscles are relaxed; inshort, your whole physical being is in a state of inactivity.

This inactivityincreases until you are plunged in “deep sleep” and become fully dissociated inyour consciousness from the physical world.You are asleep. You are, evidently, in a state of unconsciousness. But it is astrange type of unconsciousness. Your eyes are closed, but you see. Your earsare inactive but you hear. Your tongue is not moving, but you speak. You walk.You are active. You eat and drink. You have the feelings of happiness and grief,of heat and cold, of sweet and bitter tastes. You are subject to hopes and fears.In short, you have all those experiences that you have in your waking life. Andnot only that you have those experiences, but you can also remember them just