Vague idea this? It is, no doubt, very difficult to say whether the consummation for which those mystics yearned was infinite individual existence in the divine presence, exposed to no attack from within or without, and requiring nothing for its sustenance, the realm of eternal peace, some timeless, speechless, changeless state of tranquillity, or whether it was an entire fusion of soul in soul, complete absorption of all individual souls in one undiversified existence. We hear echoes of both in the literature of the Sufis, just as we do in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”.

“That each, who seems a separate whole,

Should move his rounds, and fusing all

The skirts of self, again should fall

Remerging in the general soul,

Is faith as vague as all unsweet.”

It is for individual existence and identification after death that the soul longs. Despite serious mis­givings, the poet believes:

“Eternal form shall still divide

The eternal soul from all beside;

And I shall know him when we meet.”

This, however, is a preliminary meeting, prepa­ratory to the final end, some landing place, to clasp and say,

“Farewell: We lose ourselves in light:”

And the last two lines of the final stanza strike the same note:

“Until we close with all we loved,

And all we flow from, soul in soul.”

Six centuries before Tennyson’s In Memoriam was written, Maulana Rumi had anticipated Darwin in his expression of the same desire for self-annihilation in the ocean of the Godhead:

“I died as mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal,

I died as animal and I was man.

Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

Yet once more I shall die as man, to soar

With angels blest; but even from angelhood

I must pass on: all except God doth perish.

When I have sacrificed my angel soul,

I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.

Oh, let me not exist. For non-existence

Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To him we shall return’.”

After the Sufi has reached this stage of fanā or absorption, nothing of him is left in him. Immersed in unity he is dead to himself and knows neither law, nor religion, nor any form of phenomenal existence. There is, however, yet a higher stage. To abide in God (baqā) after having been lost to self is the mark of the perfect man. He not only journeys to God, i. e. passes from plurality to unity, but is one with God, i. e., continuing in the unitive state he returns with God to the phenomenal world from which he set out, and manifests unity in plurality. Of him, writes Dr. Nicholson, it may be said in the words of a great Christian mystic (Ruysbrœck) that “he goes towards God, by inward love, in eternal work, and he goes in God, by his fruitive inclination, in eternal rest. And he dwells in God; and yet he goes out towards created things in a spirit of love towards all things, in the virtues and in works of righteousness. And this is the most exalted summit of the inner life.”

There is no need to enter into a metaphysical discussion concerning this desire for a final, ineffable union with the Being of Beings. The ethical exposition of the doctrine, as it presents itself to an ordinary mind, serves a better purpose. Such a union ought to take place every day, every hour, every moment. For aught we know, it may be too late to wait for it till the spirit has had its exit from the carnal cage. Whatever separates one’s self during one’s existence from all that is good and beautiful must be cast aside every moment. This is the sense in which many Persian mystics appear to have understood the doctrine of union and to have laid stress on purity of heart and the bridling of the passions, charity and self-renunciation as necessary means to that sublime end. For such communion one need not go through various ascetic stages. In the subjugation of the will and the consequent ethical rhythm and harmony of existence is that union realized.

Religious divines tell the Sufi that the universe has come into being in accordance with a divine fiat, that the Creator is above, as well as within it, but that no mortal being can hope to hold commerce with Him during his earthly life. The Father in Heaven, who has spread the Universe around Him and in whom dwell all living things, may of course be reached and seen too. But when? Only when the spirit has cast off its worn-out robe and abides in another life, higher, deeper, innermost, sense-freed, unchanging; but then, too, as the One Lord Supreme, an entirely distinct entity. The mystic, however, has no patience to wait until the bourne is reached whence he cannot return to earth. His cabined, ardent soul flutters for the bliss of union during, not after, this life. He wills it and is confident of attaining his object. Others have tried and failed, and have therefore declared that such a consummation is beyond the pale of possibility. But that does not deter him.

“They said, ‘He is not to be found. We have sought him long’;

A thing which is not to be found, that is my desire.”