Issue 84 / November - December 2011
Humanity: Our Unique Dimensions
M. Fethullah Gulen
"I am a lowly creature" you say O man
Only if you knew..."
The human is unique. We are self-conscious and can exercise self-control. Ironically, too many neglect this unique ability.
How many individuals can we count who develop a habit of frequent self-criticism? How many do we know who examine themselves yet again each and every day: weaknesses and strengths, internal chasms and power centers, losses and gains? How many do we know who take the time to reflect on the state of their soul in a down-to-earth manner? The unique capacity of humanity is this self-examination, which is akin to the way a conscientious, qualified, and sensible physician would treat a patient. How many do we know who engage regularly in this self-examination, not because of a temporary admiration or idle curiosity, and not in the sense of degrading oneself by poking into one's vices, but for the sake of exploring one's self and increasing discernment?
"Know thyself." This lofty saying of Socrates is well-known at centers of learning throughout the world, including many Sufi schools where it was reinterpreted with a mystical dimension: the one who has perceived the secrets of his or her own self has also known God. How many can we count who appreciatively interpreted and lived up to this saying? I do not think we can count many. Yet those who are insufficiently self-aware or who have narrow horizons also cannot know about other people or things, perhaps with the exception of some surface and inconsistent knowledge. Covering the entire earth from one end to the other with an eye of reflection-the awesome rise of the mountains, rivers cascading for infinity, lights and depths of the sky more magical than the most enchanting harmony that offer a new parade every night, eternal colors glittering from behind all these lace curtains-these can find their true meanings and values only if they can be processed through the prism of the knowledge of the divine inherently found in the human. Otherwise, all existence, each component of which is a combination of materialized speech and meaningful words interwoven in the Hidden Tablet, would not only become meaningless, but turn into chaos.
Since the first day humans appeared on earth, we have studied ourselves: sometimes superficially and at other times profoundly, sometimes crudely and at other times subtly, sometimes from a bird's eye view and at other times microscopically. The human is incomparable: material and soulful, physical and spiritual, emotional and rational. Yet what a bundle of contradictory and often opposing attributes! as sweet as honey, yet disgusting as slime; vast and open to eternity, yet constrained and narrowed with stupidity; welcoming with humility, yet rejecting with pride and arrogance; transparent and secure, yet mischievous and treacherous; altruistic, selfless, and supportive, yet selfish and ego-centered; peaceful, fair, and merciful, yet wild, aggressive, and cruel; sincere, direct, and speaking from the heart, yet fake, hypocritical, and flattering; prudent, ingenious, and with a solid perspective, yet short-sighted, foolish, and clownish. Whatever attributes we may feature, they are all human! These differences and contrarieties do not reflect our true essence, nor do they relate to so-called inner instincts, instinctual protection, or some natural inclination to reproduction-as some used to suppose. It also is by no means right to relate these to the existentialist approach of being whatever one wants to be, as if humanity were infinitely malleable.
No. It is true that the human is specially created to become almost anything across a wide-ranging spectrum. Human nature changes from darkness to light, with infinite colors in between; it is a unique potential of humanity to rise infinitely to the highest of all and to fall to the horrendous lowest of the low. The uniqueness of humanity is that we are implanted with seeds of spirituality and carnality. How we express ourselves-what color we reflect-depends on whether we are directed to an eternal prophetic goal, or not; whether we mine and appreciate the human ore in our soul, or not; whether we claim our potential power, or not; whether we dive deeply into the heart to disclose its spiritual depths, or not; whether we decide correctly when to exercise our human willpower, or not; whether we discern the secrets behind the conscious, or not; whether we turn our emotions to the beyond, or not; and whether we become aware of how the mechanism of conscience operates, or not.
Seekers of a life in the vast ocean of their souls and in the depths of their hearts, who always remain centered on their conscience, will rise to a level "higher than angels." Of course they may stumble at times. Of course they can be hampered by the thorns found in one corner of their nature. Conversely, captives who live in the shackles of their body, corporeality, and social conventions are submerged deeper as if in a whirlpool and dragged down to a level "lower than a beast." For them, the human is a "thinking animal" which is a victim of this life that is programmed according to a digestion-circulation-excretion system. Humanity is in this view no different than a reservoir of libido that is never satisfied and yet grows sickened in its own excess.
Of course, the body, corporeality, and society do have significant roles to play in our lives, but humanity also is equipped with a potential much superior to any of these. Indeed, that potential has the capacity to overcome anything in this world. Humans possess an inner dynamism to overcome both themselves and all the worlds. If we can turn our inherent powers and possibilities to the true source of all powers and possibilities, then we can surpass transient qualities; we can enrich all the decaying and crumbling pieces of existence with priceless meaning and nature, and make them qualified for eternity.
Today we can harness thunderbolts and put them in humanity's service. We can observe the minutest particles in the atomic world and the planets millions of years away. We can cover unfathomable distances with our feelings, thoughts, imagination, discoveries, and inventions. Nevertheless, we fail to realize our true uniqueness when we fall into savagery, selfishness, lawlessness, ambition, indifference, self-indulgence, and lethargy. Despite our transcendent capacity, we are facing this curse because of a false interpretation of ourselves.