I want to speak about what can’t be said
From Intimations, by J.G. Bennett
We start with an impossibility. I want to speak about what can’t be said, and this I want you to take seriously; when I say that it can’t be said, I do mean just that. It can be talked about, but when one talks about it one is talking about an image, an idea or perhaps even nothing more than a lot of words. How far is it beyond words? If it were just one step beyond words, it may be that some sort of analogy, description or picture would help. I’m going to speak about Hu in the sense that the Sufis use this word; in the ordinary way in Arabic it means nothing, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, anything you like, it just tacks on to the ends of verbs and means ‘he’. It can be used in the most ordinary way in everyday Arabic conversation.
But, it also means the ultimate, that which is entirely beyond all attribute, beyond anything that can ever be said. It also does mean the nearest of all. You’ve got Nejmeddin Kubra. His explanation of it I can start with. He said, ‘Every time we breathe, we say this. This “ah” of Allah is the essential reality of everything because everything that breathes, every breath, says this’. This is a way of expressing this immanence, the indwelling of this in everything. One cannot breathe without saying this. That’s how he explained it. That’s one way of feeling it and experiencing it. It is the very essence of our breathing, that means the very essence of our lives, the very essence of our being. But, for the Sufi, I think it is not so easy to take it that way alone.
We, for some reason or other, have been put into this world, we’ve been put into this human body. For me there is no doubt that this has been done for a purpose and we are expected to fulfill that purpose. We’ve not been sent here for nothing. We haven’t even been sent here for our own benefit, because there is something that is required of us. And, we’ve been sent about as far away as it is possible to be sent without losing contact with the Source, that is without losing the possibility of returning by one’s own volition to the Source. If we had been sent further away than this, if we’d been sent into an animal form, or a vegetable form, we wouldn’t be able to return of our own accord. We would have had to depend upon the whole evolutionary process to bring us back. Where we are situated, it is just possible to return, that is, to return of our own volition, not by the stream.
Everything will return by the stream, but we men are given the possibility of direct return. This state in which we are is in Sufi terms, the Nasut. This condition here of existence, which is sometimes called the human condition, really is the human condition together with everything that surrounds us, all this life of the animal, vegetable, mineral world. This is the world to which we’ve been sent. If we’re not able to make our way back by our own volition, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost, because we shall return in any case with the stream that flows back to the Source. But that’s not really what’s intended for man. Man’s destiny is not just to be carried along in the stream of evolution, through mineral to vegetable, through vegetable to animal, through animal to this kind of life and from this to others. The Source is what we are speaking about: The word Hu.
It is a very restricted world, a very restricted, conditioned state of existence, where we can only see sideways in this world. We see this earth, we see this sun and solar system. We see stars and galaxies. They’re all alongside of us. There’s no way back through them. The whole of this universe is ordinary. The whole of this universe is subject to the same conditions, the same limitations as our existence. The whole of this visible creation is nothing but this Nasut. We think because it is very great, very large in size, because it has existed for thousands of millions of years, that it is something great. It is nothing but one sheet of paper in a great book. But we are hypnotised by this world round us. We can’t help somehow or other falling into this illusion that because it is large it is great. It’s no greater that a sheet of paper put on the floor. Until we can free ourselves from this illusion that this world is great, we find it very difficult to begin to make the journey towards what are the truly great worlds.
The truly great worlds are within. It sometimes happens to us that a glimpse comes of this very next world to ours. When that glimpse comes to someone, they are overwhelmed by it. ‘This is infinity’, they say, ‘this is all. Now this is the cosmos revealed’. They call this ‘cosmic consciousness’; wonderful, the whole, everything is transformed. Everything is full of wonder and astonishing. Infinity has revealed itself. What has really happened? One little glimpse of a world which is beyond this one! Not even drawn into that world, not even yet coming under the power of that world, and that’s what is called ‘cosmic consciousness’. You see descriptions of ‘cosmic consciousness’, they sound wonderful! Visions of infinity, unlimited worlds, beauty beyond telling! ‘Tis nothing. It is still only just a change of our subjective state. People are drowned again and again in this vision of ‘cosmic consciousness’. But what kind of drowning? They just come up and breathe, and everything is just as it was before.
All kinds of ecstatic visions, all sorts of wonders, trances and the rest of it, are just nothing else but having added one dimension to our experience. Instead of this flat world in which we live, we have seen some depth, and everything is so changed and transformed by having that perspective in it, that we think this is the reality. ‘I have now seen all that there is to see, all has been revealed to me,’ – and over and over again people fall into this trap. It is a trap because if they believe in that vision, they will be satisfied with it. If they believe that this is what life is about, to have experiences of cosmic consciousness, of opening vistas of unspeakable beauty and wonder and so on, then they are caught in that, and just as much caught as we are, as people are, in this material, flat world.
It needs something more. One has to discard, throw away something of oneself, in order to be able really to enter into that world. Then one comes under a different power. Then an action begins. This is called Jebberut. The power of God begins to be felt. This is the time when the way is hard. If anyone enters into this, they experience the whole agony of separation, because only then, only when they have gone through this threshold, do they begin to see that they are deprived of everything that really matters, while they are in this state of existence, everything perishable, everything uncertain, conditioned and limited. And really made worse, made more unbearable, when one understands that this vision has given one nothing.
The first requirement for this is that one should be able to see that this vision, this ‘cosmic consciousness’, has done nothing for one. I remember when this happened to me nearly forty years ago now; I remember I thought everything had happened that could happen. For days I was in a state of bliss and ecstasy, and then, little by little, it dawned on me that I was just the same as I had been before. Only then did I really begin to suffer. This is very strange, this second world. A name that is also given to this is the ‘Alemi Erwah. It is called the spiritual world, world of spirits, Ruh, the spirit. It is also called purgatory. What does it mean? It means the state in which one is aware that one is not able to be what one needs to be, that one is not able to possess what one has seen. Unless you pass through this state, it is impossible; there is no way, I think. Everyone has always said this and the whole of my experience confirms it, that there is no way through, except through this door. The ‘cosmic consciousness’ becomes cheap. It is nothing.
What is the worth of it if I am still not able to go the way I must go? I must return to my source, my origin. Not so many people pass through this door. You must understand that. What is this, this spiritual world? To enter this, one must be detached, one has to be able to abandon one’s attachment to one’s body, to bodily experiences, to every kind of external support. One has to be as if one had died. Then one can come under that power. This is why it is called Jebberut. To be under the power of God. To allow the action of the Divine Power to work on us. People think it is lovely thing to be purified, to have one’s egoism and one’s defects cleared out of one. Maybe, but it’s not a pleasant thing, not without much suffering. There is no way out. We have to have great respect for those who plunge into this Istigraq, the going under, letting oneself be taken by this power, letting it act upon one.
Then come glimpses of something else. Until that time, the love is truly only a word. It is truly only a word given to something that you don’t know, or that you quite wrongly apply to things to which the word love is not a fit word to be given. Only then you see this compassion, this Divine Compassion, which has drawn you into this. This is called the Melekut. This is a very high thing.
When I first heard about these things and all these words, I can remember how I took them, as if it were something one could know about. But as year after year passed, the more the perspective grew deep and long for me, the more I saw the immensity of this step which enables one to enter into this forecourt of God’s presence. We talk about these things, but if you could know how few people can come to it. Not that it’s not the will of God that they should, but that we people have entered into such a state of existence, we’ve become so much the slaves to every kind of experience that beckons to us, that each time we get caught. You may think, but how can people want to be caught in this state of being under this power. Ah yes, but the time comes when things are very different, when there begins to be in this state of Jebberut quite a different kind of experiencing, a certain solidity, a certain assurance, that is very alluring.
One thinks, now I have acquired something, now I am beginning to be something, and we say this, ‘After fana, baqa‘, and we say, ‘This is the experience of fana; now I know what baqa is’, but believe me, there are so many deceptive baqas, so many deceptive resurrections. How many times I’ve said to myself, ‘I am being born again; now I am rising from the dead’, and what did I see? The same man rose again. He never really died.
It is then, when you see how many ways we can deceive ourselves. You know, the first deception as I say, is this believing in visions and ecstatic experiences, the opening of ‘cosmic consciousness’, the complete transformation of everything. The second is one where one begins to feel that there has been death and resurrection in oneself and that something has really happened. And one doesn’t see that this is simply a deeper illusion now.
If anyone is able to free themselves from the illusion that they have anything, anything at all of their own, that there is any reality other than that, if you can free yourself from this, then for a moment everything changes and you have that experience that there is a quite different God from the one which you ever dreamt of. Quite different and who can’t be spoken of any more. You know, that not only can’t be spoken of, but there’s no longer a sense of a power working or something like this. No longer can anything that you ever said be said any more. That is the threshold, that is the beginning for those who come to it. In Sufism we then say, this leads to the final annihilation, the fana-i-dhat. Everything disappears. Not only oneself, but the world and God all disappear. Then we say this is Hu. We say: this is huwiyet.Huwiyet is the word for a state. The state when that which came from the Source has re-entered the Source. That state is for Sufis the way of speaking of the end, the final liberation from everything that separates.
Now, how are these things possible? We’ve got instruments; eyes and ears and the rest, to know about this external world. We’ve got minds to think about this world. We’ve got minds to think and make pictures and form concepts of other worlds, and we don’t see that these minds have their source, not in anything above or higher. They have no future, no destiny. They are simply the instruments of this world. It is hard for us to accept the idea that the mind must be annihilated, that everything we have that thinks, that feels, that knows, that sees and hears, all these are the instruments of imprisonment within this world. It happens, tomorrow morning early I am off to India, to take part in the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo’s birth.
I mention Aurobindo because he was a great prophet of this time and his great message was the message of what he called the Supramental, and he spoke of the ‘descent of the supramental at this time’. A clumsy kind of word, but it is an important thing, because he at least got over to a large number of people that our human mind is a totally inadequate instrument for arriving at any real understanding. That it is only when it is possible to plunge beyond the mind that anything happens, and it is this moment of plunging beyond the mind that reveals to us this, what we call, ‘cosmic consciousness’. But how do we have this ‘cosmic consciousness’, if it’s not possible for our minds to have it? Because we have other instruments. Because we are not created just with a mind. This is a cheap instrument, this human mind. Cheap in terms of the path to reality. It is not cheap for this world. It gives us immense power in this world, it enables us to dominate in this world; but it is cheap when you look at the other world. But we people were not intended just for this. So we’ve been given instruments. We’ve been given an instrument, which is able to live and enter into this second world, this, what we callJebberut, the ‘Alemi Erwah, the world of spirits. We have a spiritual perception. We have to awaken these spiritual perceptions.
They will awaken in us partly through the intense need that one begins to feel when this first shows itself to us, the intense need to be able to experience this other reality, and not only to experience it. This is in the long run, or not very long run either, utterly dissatisfying. One cannot accept merely to see and not to possess what one loves. So that is the first thing. This is where your patron Ibn ‘Arabi was a great teacher. He taught the necessity for man to awaken and strengthen and learn to use and live with these finer instruments. He achieved it himself and he brought many, many people to the conviction that this is indeed possible for us. You musn’t think that you can enter purgatory with this body and mind.
If you want to enter that world, this Jebberut, you have to enter it with your spiritual nature, not with your natural self. But this spiritual nature of ours is in dire trouble. Don’t think that just because we have a spiritual nature, that this spiritual nature has only to be awakened and released and it is already able to find its goal. No. Our spiritual nature is tainted, tainted with our own egoism, tainted with our own illusions, tainted with our craving for existence, our holding on to externals. All this is in the spiritual nature, not only in our physical nature. There has to be awakened in us the instrument, the spiritual instrument that can see how it is with us, and that is a very great suffering. But, it is also, as this spiritual instrument of ours begins to awaken and we begin to see that the realities are so extraordinary, that everything else ceases to matter. Only one thing, to possess that.
Then comes the time when yet another instrument, a higher instrument still, an instrument that is not spiritual but Divine, an instrument that is leant to us, or given to us, or somehow we’re drawn to it. I don’t know how to speak of that. But this Divine instrument then allows us to go beyond all this and see that the whole of this existence is nothing. This is nothing but a shadow, a play. Then comes quite a different kind of thing, quite a different kind of opening. This has to be.
Why do I say all this to you? Because I wanted, when I asked if I could come and speak to you, I wanted to say one thing only to you, but I had to prepare all this, and that is that I want to ask you to have an unlimited respect always present in you for the word Hu. Sometimes I suffer when I hear the word Hu, the syllable Hu, used lightly. I must tell you, because I am no friend of yours if I don’t speak to you truly.
You know that for many many years I didn’t dare to pronounce the word God. There were some words that I couldn’t bring myself to pronounce, the word God, the word Love, I just couldn’t bring to my lips, because I felt so far away from them. Then little by little, I don’t know whether because I have grown hard and callous, or whether because I have penetrated more deeply, God knows, but I began to use these words. I try to use them with deep respect. But of all words, the one perhaps of all sounds, the one to be most respected is the word Hu. Because it stands for everything. It stands for that which is in every breath we breathe, and it stands for the source which can only be reached by complete annihilation of everything, because it is beyond all existence, beyond all being. You will have to use the word, but I came here to beg you to remember, that you have chosen the holiest syllable that there is and if you’ve done that, you’ve taken on yourself a great responsibility. If you treat it without this respect, it is sacrilege. It is only the fewest of the few, the rarest of the rare who actually come to the reality of Hu. The very great chosen ones, chosen and sent; messengers. Only they can really say the word Hu. Those who come directly from the source and will return to the source. They know what Hu is. So you must forgive me if I speak in that way, and I did ask permission to do this. I was not invited. I thrust myself on you in that way and I came because this power which must be obeyed, al Muti, who must be obeyed, made me come. There is within us all this power. But to be able to listen to and be obedient to that power, we must put aside all visible and thinkable things.
Listen to the talk: