In the world of mankind, from the time of Adam until the present, two great currents or lines of thought have, like two tall trees, spread their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity
The explanatory introduction being concluded, we may, if it has been understood, proceed to shed some light on the truth of the subject:
Consider: In the world of mankind, from the time of Adam until the present, two great currents or lines of thought have, like two tall trees, spread their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity. One of them is the line of Prophethood and religion, the other that of philosophy and human wisdom. Whenever those two lines have been in agreement and united, by which I mean whenever the line of philosophy has joined the line of religion in obedience and service to it, mankind has experienced brilliant happiness and a brilliant collective life. But whenever they have followed separate paths, truth and goodness have accumulated to the side of Prophethood and religion, and error, evil and deviation have been drawn to the side of philosophy. We shall now elaborate on the origin and foundations of those two lines.
The line of philosophy, whenever it has split away from the line of religion, has taken the form of an evil tree spreading the dark veils of ascribing partners to God and of misguidance in every respect
The line of philosophy, whenever it has split away from the line of religion, has taken the form of an evil tree spreading the dark veils of ascribing partners to God and of misguidance in every respect. On the branch of empowered reason, it has yielded for the consumption of the human intellect, the fruits of atheism, materialism and naturalism. On the branch of empowered anger and passion, it has produced tyrants like Nimrod, Pharaoh and Shaddad to tyrannize over mankind. On the branch of empowered animal desires and appetites, it has produced the fruits of ‘goddesses’, idols and those who have claimed divine status for themselves. By contrast, the blessed line of Prophethood, which takes the form of the Tuba tree of worship, has borne, in the garden of the earth, on the branch of empowered reason, the fruit of the Prophets, Messengers, saints and the righteous. On the branch of empowered anger, the branch of defense against and repelling of evil, it has yielded the fruits of virtuous kings and just rulers. On the branch of empowered attractiveness it has borne, throughout human history, the fruits of generous, benevolent persons of good character and modest bearing. The line of Prophethood has thus demonstrated how mankind is the perfect fruit of the creation. We shall now shed light on the two aspects or ‘faces’ of ego as the origin and principal seed of these two lines of thought.
One ‘face’ is represented by the Prophets and the other by philosophers. That is to say, Prophethood takes hold of one ‘face’, while philosophy takes hold of the other, causing them to diverge.
The face or aspect of ego represented by Prophethood
The ‘face’ represented by Prophethood is the origin of pure worship and slavery to God. That is to say, the ego knows itself as the slave of God. It realizes that it serves One other than itself. Its essential nature has only an indicative function. Ego understands that it bears the meaning of one other than itself, and it can be meaningful only when it points to that one. Its existence is dependent. Ego believes that its existence and life depend upon the creativity and existence of the one other. Its feeling of ownership is illusory. Ego knows that what it enjoys is an apparent, temporary ownership by the permission of its real Owner. It has a shadow-like reality. Ego understands that it is a contingent entity, an insignificant shadow which manifests the true and necessary Reality. As for its function, being a measure and balance for the Attributes and functions of its Creator, that function is conscious willing service.
It is in this regard that the Prophets, the pure, righteous ones and the saints who have followed the line of the Prophets, have truly perceived the nature of ego. Therefore, they have resigned sovereignty to the Exalted Sovereign of the creation and believed that He has no partner or like, either in His Sovereignty or in His Lordship, or in His Divinity. He is no need of an assistant or deputy. His is the key to all things; He has absolute power over all things. Causes, they have also come to believe, are but a veil of appearances, and nature is the sum of the rules of His creation, an assemblage of His laws, of the ways in which He displays His Power.
This radiant, luminous, beautiful ‘face’ of ego has always been like a living seed full of meaning from which the Exalted Creator has created the Tuba tree of worship, the blessed branches of which have adorned all parts of the human world with its illustrious fruits. Through this ‘face’, the darkness over the past is lifted and it is then understood that past time is not a domain of non-existence nor a vast graveyard, as conceived by philosophy, but a source of light and a bright, shining ladder with many rungs from which the souls traversing it may leap into the future and eternal felicity. It is also a radiant abode and a garden for the souls who have departed this world and cast off their heavy loads and been set free.
The other face or aspect of ego represented by misguided philosophy
The second ‘face’ is the one represented by philosophy. Philosophy regards ego as having an essential meaning of its own. That is to say, it maintains that ego has an independent existence of its own; that ego is the index only to itself and that it labors wholly on its own behalf. It considers the existence of ego as necessary and essential. It falsely assumes that ego owns its being and is the real lord and master in the domain where it is active. Philosophy supposes ego to be a permanent reality. It considers the duty of ego to be self-perfection for the sake of self-esteem. And so on. Philosophers have in these ways built their various schools of thought on many such corrupt foundations. Even such eminent philosophers as Plato and Aristotle, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and al-Farabi, maintained that the ultimate aim of mankind is to make themselves like the Necessary Being, in other words, to actually resemble Him. In that they drew a very wrong conclusion. They provoked ego through such opinions and set it free to run in the valleys of polytheism, thus opening the way to numerous different ways of associating partners with God, like worship of causes, of idols, of natural forces, of the stars. They closed the doors to man's perception and confession of his impotence and weakness, his insufficiency and need, his deficiency and imperfection, which are basic to human beings, and thus blocked up the road to worship and slavery to God. Immersed in naturalism and completely unable to escape from ascribing partners to God, they were unable to locate the wide open doors of gratitude.
In contrast to the line of philosophy, the line of Prophethood considered that the aim and function of mankind is to be molded by Divine values and to achieve good character. They believed also that mankind, by perceiving their own impotence, should seek refuge with Divine Power, by perceiving their weakness, rely on Divine Strength, and by realizing their insufficiency and essential poverty, trust in Divine Mercy. By knowing their need, they should seek help from Divine Riches, by seeing their faults, they should plead for pardon through Divine Forgiveness, and by perceiving their inadequacy they should glorify Divine Perfection.
It is because philosophy has deviated from the Right Path, in disobedience to the line of religion, that ego has taken the reins into its own hands and galloped into all sorts of error. Consequently, out of such an ego an evil tree has grown and swallowed up more than half of mankind.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.