Are we meant to be more than just intelligent animals?
With respect to action and bodily endeavors, we are no more than weak animals or helpless creatures. The realm at our disposal is so limited that our fingers can touch its circumference. Our weakness, impotence, and indolence are so great that even domesticated animals are influenced by them. If any domesticated animal is compared with its undomesticated counterpart, great differences will be observed.
But as passive, recipient beings who need to pray and petition, we are worthy travelers allowed to stay for a while in the guesthouse of this world. We are guests of a Generous One Who has put the treasuries of His infinite Compassion at our disposal, and subjugated to us His peerless works of creative power and His special servants. Also, He has prepared for our use and pleasure such a vast arena of things that its radius is as far as sight or even imagination can reach.
If we rely on our physical and innate abilities, taking the worldly life as our goal and concentrating on its pleasures, we will suffocate within a very narrow circle. Furthermore, our bodily parts, senses, and faculties will bring suit and witness against us in the Hereafter. But if we know that we are guests and so spend our lives within the limits approved by our Generous Host, we will lead a happy and peaceful lives and reach the highest rank. We will be rewarded with an everlasting life of bliss in the Hereafter, and all of our bodily members and faculties will testify in our favor.
Our wonderful faculties have not been given to us so that we can use them in this trivial worldly life; rather, they have been given for our eternal life. We have many more faculties and senses than animals do, but the pleasure we derive from our physical lives is much less than what an animal derives. Every worldly pleasure bears traces of pain, is spoiled with past sorrows and fears of the future, and the pleasure’s ultimate disappearance. Animals, on the other hand, experience pleasure without pain, enjoyment without anxiety, and have no past sorrows or anxiety about the future. They enjoy comfortable lives and praise their Creator.
We have been created in the best pattern. If we concentrate on this worldly life, we are far lower than a sparrow, although we have far more developed faculties than any animal. In another treatise, I explained this fact in the form of a parable, as follows:
A man gives his servant 10 gold coins and tells him to have a suit made for himself out of a certain cloth. He gives another servant 1,000 gold coins and sends him to the market with a shopping list. The former buys an excellent suit of the finest cloth. The latter acts foolishly. He neither notices how much money he was given nor does he read the shopping list. Thinking that he should imitate his friend, he goes to a shop and asks for a suit. The dishonest shopkeeper gives him a suit of the very worst-quality cloth. The unfortunate servant returns to his master and receives a severe reprimand and a terrible punishment. Anyone can see that the 1,000 gold coins were not given for a suit, but for a very important transaction.
In the same way, our spiritual faculties, feelings, and senses are much more developed than those of animals. For example, we can see all degrees of beauty, taste all varieties of a food item’s particular tastes, penetrate the many details of visible realities, yearn for all ranks of perfection, and so on. Animals, on the other hand, with the exception of a particular faculty that reaches a high state of development according to its particular duty, can realize only a very slight development, if any.
Our senses and feelings, which have developed a great deal owing to our mind and intellect, require that we have many faculties. Our many needs have caused us to evolve different types of feelings, and to become very sensitive to many things. Also, due to our comprehensive nature, we have been given desires turned to several aims and objectives. Our senses and faculties have greatly expanded because of the diversity of our essential duties. Furthermore, since we are inclined and able to worship, we have the potential to realize all kinds of perfection.
Obviously, such rich faculties and abundant potentialities cannot have been given to us for an insignificant, temporary, worldly life. They were given to us because our essential duty is to perceive our obligations, which are directed to endless aims; to affirm our impotence, poverty, and insufficiency via worship; to study by our far-reaching sight and penetrating understanding; to bear witness to creation’s glorification of God; to discern and be grateful for the All-Merciful One’s aid sent in the form of bounties; and to gaze, reflect upon, and draw warning from the miracles of His Power as manifested in creation.
O world-worshipping one charmed by the worldly life and ignorant of the meaning of your nature as the best pattern of creation! Once I saw the true nature of this worldly life in a dream, as follows:
I was on a long journey. My God had caused me to set out on this journey. He gradually gave me some of the 60 gold coins he had allotted to me. This went on for some time. After a while, I arrived at an inn that provided some entertainment. I gambled away 10 gold coins in one night of entertainment and frivolity. When it was morning, I had no money for the provisions I would need at my destination. All I had left was pain, sorrow, and regret left by sin and illicit pleasure.
While in this wretched state, a man said to me: “You have lost everything, and so deserve to be punished. Moreover, you will go on to your destination with no money. But if you use your mind, the door of repentance is open. When you receive the rest of the money, keep half in reserve and use it to buy what you will need at your destination.”
My selfhood did not agree, so the man said: “Save a third of it then.” Still, my selfhood balked. The man insisted: “Then a quarter.” I realized that my selfhood would be unable to abandon its addictions, so the man turned away in some indignation and disappeared.
At just this moment, I found myself on a train traveling at a high speed through a tunnel. I was alarmed, but there was no escape. To my surprise, I saw very attractive flowers and tasty-looking fruits alongside the track, hanging out from the sides of the tunnel. I foolishly attempted to pick some of them. But all around them were thorns that, because of the train’s speed, tore at my hands and made them bleed. What I tried to hold on to them, they slipped from my grasp.
Suddenly an attendant came beside me and said: “Give me 5 cents, and in return I’ll give you as many flowers and fruits as you want. Otherwise, with your hands all cut up, you will lose a 100 instead of 5. Besides, there is a punishment for picking them without permission.”
Depressed by this condition, I looked out the window to see when the tunnel would end. But there was no end in sight. The tunnel’s walls had many openings into which passengers were being thrown. Suddenly I caught sight of an opening just opposite me with a gravestone on either side. When I peered out, I made out my name, Said, written in capital letters on the gravestones. I gave a cry of bewilderment and repentance.
Unexpectedly, I heard the voice of the man who had advised me at the inn, asking : “Have you come to your senses?” I replied: “Yes, but I am in despair and there is nothing I can do.” He told me to repent, and trust in God, to which I replied that I would. Then I woke up and I found myself transformed into the New Said; the Old Said had gone away.
I will now interpret some aspects of this dream: The journey is your life, a journey from the incorporeal world of eternity, passing through the stages of mother’s womb, youth, old age, the grave, the intermediate world, Resurrection, and the Bridge. The 60 gold coins are the 60 years of an average lifetime.
I was 45 when I had this dream. Only God knows when I will die. A sincere student of the Qur’an showed me the true path so that I might spend half of the remaining 15 years for the Hereafter. The inn, as I came to understand, was Istanbul. The train represents time, and each railroad car is a year. The tunnel is the worldly life. The thorny flowers and fruits are illicit pleasures and forbidden amusements that make the heart bleed with the idea of separation at the very moment you reach for them. The disappearance of pleasure increases sorrow, and besides, being unlawful, cause one to suffer punishment.
The attendant on the train had said:
“Give me 5 cents, and in return, I will give you as many flowers and fruits as you wish.” This means that the permissible tastes and pleasures, obtained in lawful ways, are enough for ones satisfaction. There is no need to pursue illicit ways.
You can interpret the remaining details for yourself.
Adopted from Bediuzzaman’s Twenty-third Word, Second Chapter