Maneri: Belief in Unity

Sheikh Sharafuddin Ahmed Maneri, from Bihar in north-east India, was the son of a widely respected Sufi, Yahya Maneri,  and became himself known as Makhdoom-ul-Mulk or the Spiritual Teacher of the Realm.  He was born in the summer of 1263 CE, and if the dates can be believed, lived almost to the age of 120, passing away in 1381.  Not much is known about his personal life, but he devoted himself to teaching and writing, and one of the long-lasting treasures of Sufi literature is his collection of The Hundred Letters from which the following short passage is taken.  The letters were written as a response to the Governor of western Bihar, Qazi Shamsuddin, who had earnestly and repeated requested Sheikh Sharafuddin to send him spiritual instruction, as his duties did not permit him to visit the Sheikh.

It is worth noting that the excellent English translation of these letters was made by the Jesuit priest Paul Jackson, who, motivated by the open-hearted approach to other religions of Vatican II, has made a life-long study of the religion of Islam and the Sufi path in India.  When he first began his study of Maneri, he said that if his research led him to feel that the spiritual reputation of the Sufi was unfounded, he would abandon the project; in the end, he came to regard Maneri as a highly evolved and compassionate spiritual guide.

The first of the letters deals with four stages of the belief in the Unity of God.  The first stage is conventional, without any conviction; the second is based upon reason and secondary evidence; the third is supported by some direct experience; and the fourth stage, described here, is when all thought of self is forgotten in the dazzling light of the One.

Sufi masters are of the opinion that, in the fourth stage, such a surfeit of the dazzling divine light becomes manifest to the pilgrim that every single existing particle that lies within his vision becomes lost to sight on account of the brightness of the light emanating from the sun.  This occurs not because the particles have ceased to exist but rather because the intensity of the sunlight makes it impossible that anything other than this concealment should result.  In the same way, it is not true that a person becomes God–for God is infinitely greater than any man–nor has the person really ceased to exist, for ceasing to exist is one thing, and becoming lost to view quite another.

Before your Unique Being, there is neither old nor new:
Everything is nothing, nothing at all! Yet He is what He is.
How then can we remain separate from You?

When “I” and the “You”” have passed away, God alone will remain!

When you look into a mirror you do not see the mirror for the simple reason that your attention has become riveted on your own handsome reflection.  You would not, however, go on to say that the mirror has ceased to exist, or that it has  become beautiful, or that beauty has become a mirror.  In a similar fashion, one can contemplate God’s almighty power in the whole gamut of creation, without any distinction. Sufis describe this state as that of being entirely lost to oneself n contemplation of the Unique Being!

A person who attains such a blessed state says:
“His very brilliance blinds me to whatever descends!”

from Sharafuddin Maneri – The Hundred Letters
Translated by Paul Jackson SJ

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