Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: On Knowledge of the World . - The Alchemy of Happiness
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CHAPTER III.: On Knowledge of the World . - Al Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness 
The Alchemy of Happiness, by Mohammed Al-Ghazzali, the Mohammedan Philosopher, trans. Henry A. Homes (Albany, N.Y.: Munsell, 1873). Transactions of the Albany Institute, vol. VIII.
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On Knowledgeof theWorld.
Know, that this world is one stage of our life for eternity. For those who are journeying in the right way, it is the road of religion. It is a market opened in the wilderness, where those who are travelling on their way to God, may collect and prepare provisions for their journey, and depart thence to God, without sorrow or despondency.
Know, that the state previous to death is called the world, because mortality is close at hand. The state after death is called the future, because its rest is permanent. The purpose and design of the world, is to afford an opportunity to make provision for the future, to acquire knowledge, and to worship God. Man as at first created, was destitute of works, and void of perfection : but he was made capable of reaching perfection and attaining felicity, so that while in a material world he could look forward to a spiritual world, understand whence he came, what are his duties, that he is soon to depart, and might be always ready. Man's felicity, which consists in the contemplation of the beauty of God, cannot be vouchsafed to him, until the eye of his judgment is opened. But the eye of judgment is opened by the contemplation of the works of God, and by understanding his almighty power. The contemplation of the works of God is by means of the senses, which become the key to all knowledge of God. The senses subsist by means of the body, and the body is composed of four different elements. Those therefore who are endowed with understanding, conscious of the frailty of their bodies should make all diligence to quit this kingdom of corruption and to enter permanently into the unchanging kingdom.
Know, O inquirer after the divine secrets, that there are two things needful to man in this world; first of all, he needs to acquire spiritual food to preserve his heart from perishing. The aliment of the heart consists in the love and knowledge of God; for whatever is a necessity of the nature of any one, that he loves, as we have before mentioned. The ruin of the soul consists in the predominance of some other love over the love of God, which veils the divine love. Our refuge is in God !
The second thing needful for a man is, that the body should be preserved and tended with care, since it is the frame of the heart. As a camel is to a pilgrim, so the body is like an animal upon which the heart rides. The pilgrim is obliged to give food and water to his camel, and to treat it with attention, that he may reach the end of his journey in safety, and by its means'be successful in the object for which he travels. But the attention bestowed by the pilgrim upon his camel, should be only in that proportion which is really necessary. If he should be busy with his camel day and night, and should expend all his capital in feeding it, he would not reach his destination, but would ultimately become separated from his caravan, would lose all that he possessed, and in view of the injury he had sustained, he would be the victim of unceasing regrets, and ruin would ensue. Just so is it with man in general. If he pass all his days in attending to the preservation of the body, and spend the capital of his life, in providing food and drink for the body, he will not reach the mansions of felicity, but will wander in the wilderness of destruction, without capital, penniless and a naked vagabond.
Now the body needs in this world three things, one is food, another is clothing, and the third is a home : and by means of these, it can be preserved from injury and ruin. If the food provided for the body is excessive, the body will be destroyed : but let the food provided for the spirit be ever so much, still is it well. On account, therefore, of man's need of clothing and food, God has appointed sensuous desire to act as a commissary, that the animal, that is, the body, may not perish from hunger, cold or heat. But as desire, under the control of the animal soul, would not be satisfied with a sufficient quantity, but would crave to spend its life in eating and drinking, God afterwards committed the animal soul into the charge of the reason, that desire might not transgress the proper limits. Yet as the animal soul and desire, on account of their intimate relations with the body, are so essential to it, their influence would still have been predominant. But God, the holy defender, in accordance with his bounteousness and grace, (“ my mercy has surpassed my anger,”) has sent his law by the tongues of prophets, that it might become strength to the reason, and prevent the animal soul and desire from passing beyond the due limits, and on the contrary might dispose the soul to rest satisfied with the degree of energy and force necessary for it, and by learning the design for which it had come into the world, might spend its days accordingly.
After you have learned, O student of the divine mysteries, what this world in its meaning really is, it is important that you should look at the world in detail. Every thing in the world of matter which grows, has been included under three classes, animal, vegetable and mineral, which are called the three generations or kingdoms. Animals were created some for riding, some for food, and some for tilling. Vegetables were created to afford food and conveniences to man, and sustenance to various animals. Minerals, like gold, silver, copper and iron, were created to serve as instruments to provide means of sustaining life in man. It was designed that by means of these three kingdoms, the spirit of man, while dwelling for a few days in the body, should be employed in making preparation for the future world. Man, however, forgetful of the end for which he had come hither, heedless of the fact that he was soon to depart, and that he would then repent to find that he was going unprepared, became engaged in strife with his fellows about the things of the world, fell in love with its ways, and attempted to gain its wealth. In consequence various qualities began to appear in the heart, such as avarice, envy, ambition and hatred, which are sources of its ruin. Finally the heart, forgetful of the duties for the performance of which it had come in to the world, exhausted all its energies in building up the world.
As man's primary necessities in the world are three, viz : clothing, food and shelter, so the arts of the world are three, viz: weaving, planting and building. The rest of the arts serve either for the purpose of perfecting the others, or for repairing injuries. Thus the spinner aids the work of weaving, the tailor carries out that work to perfection, while the cloth-dresser adds beauty to the work. In the arts, there is need of iron, skins and wood, and for these many instruments are necessary. No person is able to work at all kinds of trades, but by the will of God, upon one is devolved one art and upon another two, and the whole community is made dependent, one member upon the other. When avarice, ambition and covetousness hold sway in the hearts of men, because some are not pleased to see others obtain honors, and because they do not endeavor to quell their wants, envy and hatred arise among them. Each one, dissatisfied with his own rights, plots against the property and honor of his fellows. On this account there was a necessity for three farther distinctions, viz: sovereignty, judicial authority, and jurisprudence, which contains the digest of the law. But alas ! poor and wretched man coming under the influence of all these causes, motives and instruments, spends his life in collecting wealth and lays up for himself sources of regret. And just as the pilgrim, who on his way to the Kaaba of Mecca, was engaged day and night in taking care of his camel, got separated from the caravan, and perished in the desert, so those who know not the real nature of the world and its worthlessness, and do not understand that it is the place where seed is sown for eternity, but spend all their thoughts upon it, are certainly fascinated and deceived; as the apostle of God declares. “The world is more enchanting than Harout and Marout: let men beware of it.”1
After you have learned that the world is delusive, enchanting and treacherous, you need to know in what way its delusions and enchantment operate. I will, therefore, mention some things which are illustrative of the world. The world, beloved, is like an enchanter, who exhibits himself to you as though he would dwell with you and would forever be at your side; while in truth this world is always upon the point of being snatched away from you, notwithstanding you are tranquilly unconscious of it. The world is like a shadow, which, while you look at it, seems fixed, although in reality, it is in motion. Life is like a running water, which is always advancing, yet yon think that it is still and permanent, and you wish to fix your abode by it. The world again is like an enchanter who performs for you acts of friendship and manifests love for yon, for the sake of winning your affections to him : but as soon as he has secured your love, he turns away his face from you and plots to destroy you….
The world resembles those imposters, who decorate themselves externally and conceal the sorrows and curse they bring, while the ignorant, looking only at the outside, are fascinated and deluded. The world resembles the old woman who arrayed herself in silk stuffs and flowered brocades, and with ornaments, and covered her head with a beautiful embroidered veil, so that those who should see her from a distance, and notice only her garments and her form, might be deceived. And whenever she has succeeded in inducing a person to follow after her and to decide upon joining himself to her, she takes off her robes from her back and her veil from her head, and immediately her concealed ugliness is brought to light, and the person who had been seeking her, becomes subject to eternal regret and sorrow. We have received it also by tradition, that the world will be brought to the great assembly at the last day, in the form of a woman with livid eyes, pendent lips, and deformed shape, and all the people will look upon her, (we take refuge in God,) and will exclaim, “what deformed and horrible person is that, whose aspect alone is severe torture to the soul?” And they will be answered. “It was on her account that you were envying and hating one another, and were ready to slay one another. It was on her account that you rebelled against God, and debased yourselves to every sort of corruption.” And then God will order her to be driven off to hell with her followers and her lovers….
Know, that the world consists of a certain number of stages between the world of spirits and the future world. The first stage is the cradle, and the last is the grave, and every period between these is also a stage. Each month represents a league, each hour a mile, and each breath a step. It is always flowing on like running water. Man in his excessive heedlessness thinking himself to be permanently established, engages in building up the world: and though he has no assurance of a half-hour of time, he makes preparations for dwelling here for many years, and never once brings himself to make the necessary preparation for dislodging and moving to another land.
Behold, another likeness of the world. Know, beloved, that the pleasures of the world, and the pains and tribulations which are the counterpart to these pleasures in the future world, resemble the man who should eat very largely of rich and delicate food and find great delight therein: but on account of his excesses, he suffers from indigestion, his stomach is irritated, vomiting and sickness ensue and he has a great deal to endure before he can recover his health. He repents of what he has been eating, and in proportion as he ate extravagantly, and found enjoyment, he now suffers corresponding pain and disappointment. Now then, in proportion as any one in the world has indulged in the pleasures of life and dissipation, so much the greater will be his anguish and torment at the moment of death. He who possesses gardens and fields, houses, lands, and money, servants and horses, will be subject to regret and affliction at death, in proportion to their amount. This misery does not close with death, but on the contrary afterwards increases. The Lord Jesus (upon whom be peace !) declares that the world is like the man who drinks sea-water. The more he drinks, the more his internal heat increases. And unless he stops, he will destroy himself by drinking.
Man in this world resembles the guest who was invited to partake of the hospitality of a rich man. In token of respect, the servants set before him silver washing-basins, vessels of costly stones, perfumes of musk and amber with chafing dishes. The poor guest is overjoyed at the sight of these things, thinking that they have been made his own property, and belays hold of them with the intention of retaining them. The next day, when he is upon the point of departure, they are all taken from him by force, and the measure of his disappointment and regret is clear to every person of discrimination. Seeing that this world is itself a mansion built for travellers, by the road over which they are to pass, that they may make a halt, and lay in provisions preparatory to leaving it again, he is a wise guest who does not lay bis hand upon other things than his necessary provisions, lest on the morrow when about to move on, they take them out of his hands, and he expose himself to regret and sorrow.
The people of this world are also like the passengers in a ship, who while sailing upon the sea, arrive at an island. The sailors draw the ship to the shore, and then call out and say, “whoever wishes for water or other provisions, let him leave the ship and go and procure them : let him not delay, for the ship will not remain long. It is besides a dangerous place, and whoever remains here will perish.” After receiving this warning, the passengers leave the ship, and are all scattered about, one in this direction and another in that. The wise passengers, remembering the admonition of the sailors, attended quickly to their affairs, and immediately returned to the ship. They selected the places in the ship that pleased them best, and sat down calm and tranquil. Some of the passengers, however, gazed at the trees, the flowers and the fruits of the island, listened to and admired the notes of the birds, and became absorbed in looking at the wonderful curiosities found there. They delayed so long, that when they came to the ship, they found every place in the ship occupied, and no room for them to sit down. They finally entered, and found a corner with great difficulty, where they could just press themselves in. Others, not satisfied with gazing around, loaded themselves with stones that had the appearance of being precious, and after a time returned to the ship. They found it completely full, and absolutely no place to sit down. After they had entered, they were compelled from necessity to stow themselves in a dark place at the bottom. As for the stones which they had thought were jewels, they lost their color, putrefied, and sent forth such a disagreeable odor, as to affect the passengers to nausea. It was impossible to expel the odor and they remained to the last with its disagreeableness in the midst of them. Others still took so much pleasure in looking about the island, that they said to themselves, “where shall we be able to find a more delightful retreat than this ? It is not clear that the place where we are going is better than this,” And so they chose to remain there; and after the departure of the ship some of them perished with hunger and thirst, and some were devoured by wild beasts. Not one of them was saved. In the future world they will certainly suffer pain and retribution.
Do not suppose, beloved, that every thing in the world is to be despised; for there are some things that are estimable and valuable, which belong to the world: viz : knowledge, worship, war in defence of the faith, and abstinence : and also a sufficiency of food, drink and clothing, marriage, domestic shelter and other things; seeing that they are helps on the journey to the future world and in the path of knowledge, they are all of them exceedingly important and necessary. Delight in knowledge, delight in worship, delight in prayer and delight in communion with God are things of this world, but still they are for the sake of the future world. It follows, therefore, that the pleasures of the world are not all of them blamable, but only those which entail punishment in the future world, or which are not in the path to paradise, and so the apostle declares, “The world is a curse and all that is in it is a curse, except the remembrance of God and that which is the object of his love.”
Teachers of arts of enchantment.