The Horizon Of “the Secret” And What Lies Beyond
This article explains the meaning of Metaphysical Realms (The Horizon Of “the Secret” And What Lies Beyond) in Sufism.
I am aware that I am not able to write and speak about this topic as it should be written and spoken about. My pen and words also tell me this. I suffer from keeping silent and not writing anything, while writing or speaking about a matter that is beyond my capacity of perception and expression is a venture that I take on with trepidation. However, I have been able neither to keep silent nor be relieved of the anxieties that my writings have generated in my spirit. Having always regarded my inability and neediness as a call for God’s help, and my venture as a signal to incite people of endeavor and devotion whose hearts dominate their tongues, whose tongues translate their “secret,” whose “secret” is open to their horizon of “private,” and whose “private” is connected to their “more private,” I have uttered “In and with the Name of God,” and “from God,” and “toward God,” and I advance asking for God’s extra grace.
For those who can understand, I have always admitted that I am not a person who is able to write or speak about this profound topic and similar, other simpler ones. But I am convinced that these topics should be discussed. During all my daring attempts to write about them, I have wept with my pen, sometimes with yearning, and sometimes shuddering. While my pen has breathed with the ink it pours forth, I have breathed with my tears. It is the Creator Who knows my heart and has perfect knowledge of my “secret;” it is again He Who knows the truths of “the private” and “the more private,” and Who makes them known by whomever He wills, and it is He Who graciously protects and helps those who narrate what they read and hear.
Literally meaning something kept hidden, sir (“the secret”), which was discussed before,28 is a heavenly faculty belonging to the heart. The secret has the same meaning for the heart as the spirit for the body. Meaning something concealed and imperceptible, khafi (“the private”) is another deep dimension of the heart which is turned to the realms and truths beyond those to which “the secret” is turned, and another observatory from which we can look on the truths. As for akhfa (“the more private”), which literally means something more hidden, more obscure, and more profound for perceiving, it is a window which is open to further and further realms and truths and through which God’s gifts pour.
According to some friends of the Ultimate Truth, “the spirit” is an element through which one loves and has a relationship with God Almighty; “the heart” is a storehouse of the knowledge of God; “the secret” is a system with which we can observe more abstract and profound truths by His grace, while “the private” is a design or map of Divine mysteries, and “the more private” is a mysterious key with which to open the Hidden Treasure. Without God’s grace and assistance, it would not be possible to know the true nature of these faculties. Although with his secret, private, and more private every believer has the potential to have certain knowledge of the Attributes and Essence of God, as well as the Divine mysteries and the Hidden Treasure, it is not possible for human free will to set these faculties in action without Divine leave or help. Human beings are able to see by God’s causing us to see, to hear by His causing us to hear, and to feel by His causing us to feel, and are not able to do any of these actions by themselves; in the same way it is impossible for a human being to say anything concerning the Attributes, Essential Qualities or Characteristics, and Essence of the Divine Being without God’s help or grace. God Almighty has perfect knowledge of every human being, including their spirit, heart, secret, private and more private. He has perfect knowledge of everything, be it of particular or universal character. He enables whomever He will to know whatever part of His knowledge He wills to be known, while He keeps unknown whatever part He wills to remain unknown. Concerning His Knowledge the Qur’an tells us:
He knows whatever is in their hearts (48:18);
Surely I know all that you do not know (2:30);
I know well all that you reveal and all that you have been keeping secret (2:33);
Know that surely God knows whatever is in your souls (2:235);
Do they (the hypocrites) not know that God knows what they keep concealed and their private counsels and gossips, and that God has full knowledge of the whole of the Unseen? (9:78).
Without His making known, human beings would not even be able to know themselves, let alone know what lies behind the secret.
Since the creation of humanity, it is only through God’s special guidance and assistance that humanity has been able to read whatever is to be read correctly concerning the outer and inner world. Whenever humanity has remained indifferent to His guidance and illumination, it has continuously faltered and been dragged into hesitation, and it has not been able to say a true word particularly about the Divine Essence, Attributes, and Names. Whenever people have opened their mouths to utter something, they have only been able to utter nonsense.
God Almighty has kept us informed about His Essence, Attributes, and Names by means of His distinguished servants, known as “the perfectly purified, chosen ones, the truly good” (38:47). We have tried to perceive these transcending matters in keeping with their instructions and thereby have been saved from falling into hesitation or conflict. During times when we have remained deaf to the instructions and enlightenments of the true guides such as the Prophets, saints, and the purified, saintly scholars, we have been neither able to grasp the truth nor preserve the balance concerning the matters of transcending character. It is the Divine Being Who knows Himself, while others can have knowledge of Him only to the extent He makes Himself known. Confirming this point, our master, upon him be peace and blessings, declares: “I know my Lord by my Lord.” This Prophetic saying is of great significance, particularly in respect of teaching us that the Divine Being is beyond our scope of perception or knowledge, and it is the Divine Being alone Who is the unique source of all true knowledge.
Returning to our main discussion, the secret is, as mentioned before, the initial point of observing and studying the truth and what lies beyond it. According to their capacity and the horizon of their knowledge of Divinity, every believer can read, evaluate, and interpret the mysteries concerning the Creator and the created through this depth of their heart by God’s leave and help and with the signs, markers, and signposts that He has laid out.
The private is a horizon of observing the realms of existence and non-existence together from above; it is a receiver for those who are elect for special regard and favors, and a particular depth of the heart that will enable them to look through on the mysteries of Divinity and the things or beings that have not yet been brought into or have been sent from the physical existence. It is an exceptional gift of the Unique, Eternally Besought to human beings.
As for the more private, as an incomparable gift from God’s grace it is the most important dimension of a heart which is open to the Hidden Treasure, a heavenly faculty.
Those favored with the secret and those distinguished with the private and those honored and exalted with the more private receive, respectively, the gifts flowing down onto their horizons, the presents offered to their highest point of perfection, and the showers of inspiration that descend to their atmosphere; they review and consider them and reveal whatever of these and to whatever extent they are allowed to reveal to those who are qualified to receive them; the rest they keep concealed, without giving any secrets to those who cannot understand or keep them. This is what the Prophets and the purified, saintly scholars of verification have done. They are the captivating translators of the Divine will; they depend on the eternal Criterion—the Qur’an—in all their words and actions. As for those who confuse the rulings and commandments of the Name the All-Outward with the mysteries of the Name the All-Inward, even though they are among the heroes of nearness to God, since they depend on their own vision and unveilings in interpreting the truths, and are content with their own sensations and experiences, and since they are therefore not able to weigh up the results of their visions or observations in the balance of the Sunna, they not only fall but also cause others to fall into confusion; they cause others to make faults by revealing certain Divine mysteries which they are not allowed to reveal due to oblivion and intoxication, eventually losing their life or becoming the targets of severe reprimands or being condemned in the public view.
It is true that God Almighty has sometimes revealed certain mysteries of His Essence, Attributes and Names. But He has done so within the framework of certain causes as a requirement of His Dignity and Grandeur, and He has offered them from behind certain veils. For this reason, what befalls the loyal servants at the door of the Ultimate Truth is not to manifest whatever vision or unveiling with which they have been favored, thus avoiding throwing the masses into confusions and wrong actions. There is safety in silence and respect for the Ultimate Truth in not revealing Divine mysteries. A time comes for one who has reached the end of the path when all Divine Attributes and Names are eclipsed by the lights of the Divine Essence. This is the horizon of Everything is perishable (and so perishing) except His “Face” (28:88). Like everything else, the corporeal existence of the servant, which is entrusted to the servant, is also eclipsed and becomes invisible. This transient, death-bound design is completely surrounded by the lights of the All-Permanent Existence and only the signals of the manifestation of the Divine Essence are experienced. This spiritual experience has been described as the Ultimate Truth making the hidden manifest.
The favors that emerge on the horizon of the private depend on one’s freedom from selfhood. For this reason, those who are at the beginning of the spiritual journey are not able to be familiar with the manifestations of the True Existence unless they are freed from their “figurative” existence. Those who see themselves as their own owners can neither reach the horizon of “the private” nor rise to the peak where the mysteries of Divine Lordship can be observed nor receive the fragrance of the Hidden Treasure. The mysteries of the Hidden Treasure are revealed on the horizon of “the more private.” This mysterious realm that is beyond the realm of mysteries is a horizon which is particular primarily to the one who is the nearest of all to the Divine Being, upon him be peace and blessings, and then to the other servants at His door in accordance with their adherence to the Prophetic way. Those who have not experienced the secret or drunk sips from the cup of the private can never rise to this peak. Just as those who have stuck fast to the wording can never discover the meaning, neither can those who only concentrate on the meaning ever attain familiarity with the essence or arrive at the truth. Supposing the impossible, even if they do arrive at the truth somehow, they can never get a glimpse of the Truth of the truths.
The Truth of the truths is the unique source and foundation of everything. Those who feel and experience It have grasped everything, while those who cannot find It continuously suffer tiredness and spend their life in vain. The Hidden Treasure is another title of the treasure of the mystery of Oneness and the absolutely Unseen, which cannot be grasped not only by ordinary people but also by those who have reached the horizons of the heart and the secret, and even by those who are the more advanced in experiencing the private. Everything in the name of existence and favor originates in this all-transcending horizon and descends downward, developing branches until it reaches us. It is the original beginning, because everything ends in It, while humankind, which is the fruit of creation, is the result. This process may also be called “the manifestation in the form of descent.” Our horizon as corporeal beings is the start of the journey realized toward the Hidden Treasure through further and further realms; this is achieved by setting the systems of the heart and spirit into action, while the more private is the end or end point. This journeying is the ascent or ascension.
God’s saintly friends usually say: “The womb is related to or has connection with the realm of Knowledge.” This may be interpreted to mean that everything has an original existence in Divine Knowledge, and that these known entities or elements of Knowledge proceed toward external existence through certain, pre-ordained stages of identification or specification in order to function as mirrors of the All-Pure Existence. In other words, everything has a hidden existence that is free of time and space in the Hidden Treasure. In the initial stage of existence, they are individually identified in Knowledge, and then they are honored with spiritual existence. Finally, they are favored with the garment of subtle and corporeal existence. These are roughly the three stages of coming into corporeal existence. This process is described as a favor of descent, while the spiritual journeying upward through the heart and the spirit, or the heart and the secret, or the secret and the private, or the private and the more private is called ascent or ascension.
The horizon of the more private is an exceptional rank or realm that is particular to the way of the journeying of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Those who do not follow this way cannot reach this peak. The final point that they can attain is the secret or the private. This is the end point of their rise that their capacity allows them to reach. Each of the steps at these peaks is also the point where the genuine nature of a Prophet is projected and marks the line of his spiritual journeying. Those who journey along the same line or are favored with the observation of truths from the same horizon seem to be the representatives of some basic qualities particular to that Prophet. It is because of this subtle reality that there may appear among those representatives ones who confuse the original with the representation and therefore claim to have a part in the Prophethood of that Prophet; or some of the followers of those representatives may attribute to their masters partnership in the Prophethood in question. However, how can the light of the moon or the reflection of the sun in bubbles can be compared with the sun itself?
According to the Sufis, the original owners of the highest ranks in question are the greatest of the Prophets, such as Prophet Adam, Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, and Prophet Jesus, upon them be peace. According to the Sufis, the sole, unique master of the horizon of the more private is the Seal of the Mission of Prophethood, upon him be the perfect of blessings and peace. The rise of the Prophets from the beginning to the end was through a sudden, instantaneous Divine attraction. Others have to follow their way, even when they are favored with Divine attraction. Believers advance on the spiritual path in adherence to its disciplines, sipping at knowledge of God with a new observation with every step from the spirit to the heart, and from the heart to the secret, and from the secret to the private, and from the private to the more private. They are cooled by being washed in the most profound and enjoyable of spiritual pleasures; they experience new types of intoxication through the mysteries of Divine Acts; they observe different manifestations in the horizon of Divine Names; they encounter surprise after surprise in the atmosphere of Divine Attributes of Glory; they undergo changes and transformations through the mysteries of Divinity; they ultimately reach the final point in their rise according to their capacity.
The perfections acquired along the path through the realm of the initial manifestations of Divine Commands are preliminary to the gifts and ranks that are to be obtained in the realm of creation. The former journey (which is in the realm of the initial manifestation of Divine Commands) is the path of sainthood, while the latter (which is realized in the realm of creation) is the ascension of Prophethood. This also shows that sainthood serves Prophethood and it was a step toward it in Prophets. A saint advances and rises in order to find a new thing at every step, and thus deepens in what they have found, while a Prophet stands at the intersection of the realms of the initial manifestation of Divine Commands and creation in order to lead others to find what he has found according to the capacity of each. He lays paths from multiplicity to unity and weaves a lace of spirituality from matter. Although his mission encompasses all the peculiarities of the realm of the initial manifestation of Divine Commands, it fundamentally relates to the realm of creation. With the exception of the pillars of belief, which originally belong to the realm of the initial manifestation of Divine Commands, all the orders and prohibitions of Islam, the bounties of Paradise, the punishment of Hell, the happiness of the vision of God in Paradise, and the delight of relationships being established with those near to God constitute the essence of the basic messages of the Prophets and relate to the realm of creation.
All the acts incumbent on the Muslims in the age of responsibility, and all the principles underlying what is beneficial to human beings and what is harmful also relate to the realm of creation and are the fruits and greenhouses provided by the horizon of Prophethood. The regular, optional recitations, and the actions of the heart, such as self-criticism, self-supervision, and reflection, which are regarded as provisions on the way of sainthood, support the basic commandments of the Religion and the essential duties of the religious life. The negligence and failure in the latter is the cause of the deprivation of the blessings of the former, while those who fulfill the former completely do not make lasting faults in the performance of the latter. The nearness to God which the way of Prophethood enables through the fulfillment of obligations is essential, while the nearness obtained on the way of sainthood through supererogatory acts is of a secondary nature. If something essential is fulfilled accurately, that which is of secondary nature is subordinated to it.
O God! Revive us through obligatory acts and duties and make us alive in them. Adorn us with supererogatory acts and duties and make us near to You. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions, those heirs to the Messengers and Prophets.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
28 It was discussed in the 2nd volume of Emerald Hills of the Heart, pp. 66–70. (Tr.)