Treating the Conceit Sickness
Be informed, dear one, that the physical doctors, while treating the physical sicknesses, exert their effort first to find out the cause of the sickness, trying to find out its causing germ. Once they have succeeded in this stage, they treat the sickness by eradicating the germ with the use of a counter-germ. The patient will then recover his health and safety.
Likewise, the scientists of manners and the spiritual doctors have also used this method in treating the spiritual and psychological sicknesses. Yes, there is a difference between this and that, which is: In the spiritual and psychological sicknesses, the knowledge of the cause of the sickness may itself be its treatment without the need to another process. In other words, in the spiritual sicknesses, the cause of which is ignorance.
There is no factor in causing the sickness save ignorance. In this case, if the causes and factors based on ignorance are identified, their structure will collapse and be replaced with knowledge. The sickness that was rendered to ignorance disappears, and there is no need for a practical treatment program. For example, when someone is afflicted with fear, and he fears isolation and the dark place, if this person directs his attention to the fact that the origin of his fear is his imagination and whim, and that there is nothing outside his mind at all, and he does not make sure about the harm that he may receive by the outside dark and the isolation…, so if he realizes this meaning, this knowledge itself suffices in the dissipation of his fear from isolation and the dark without the need for a practical treatment.
The sickness, which is the subject of our discussion, I mean conceit, belongs also to this same type of spiritual sicknesses. If one does not entirely lean on ignorance, definitely an important portion of it is based on ignorance [i.e. he must leave no share for ignorance to dictate to him what he should or should not do]. It is hoped that this dangerous sickness will disappear by paying attention to what we have stated, to the practical reminders. If some of it remains in the soul, its owner derives divine niceties and is thus successful in eradicating the substance of this sickness completely, by the will of Allāh. In this field, we would like to briefly quote what some scholars of the hereafter have said so the benefit may thereby be complete:
As we stated before, the origin of conceit in man is his seeing the attribute of perfection in his nafs even if it is not a real perfection but an imagined one. It is known that perfection is of many types and is divided from one standpoint into two kinds:
First: The perfections that come to be through the choice of the individual and are optional,
Second: The perfections that do not fall under his choice; rather, he is awarded them without his having had a say in their regard, such as beauty, lineage, and the like. Since conceit penetrates the heart mostly by way of optional perfections, we would like to tackle them and say the following:
If we suppose there is someone who is pious and God-fearing, and he performs many acts of adoration. If he admires them because these attributes and righteous deeds rest in him, being the one who undertakes them, believing that the origin of a righteous deed comes from Allāh, Praise to Him, and that He is the One Who bestows this attribute on him and enables him to undertake this deed, yet he, despite this [sound] belief, still feels conceited…, this is nothing but ignorance because this individual to whom reference is made is being utilized, and he has nothing to do with originating; so, how can he admire a deed with which he has nothing to do?
But if he is conceited because this attribute or that deed comes out of him rather than anyone else, and it takes place through his choice, his ability, let him think about the ability, the will, his physical parts and the rest of causes that have a role in completing carrying out the good deed: Where did he get them from?
If he gets to know that all this comes from Allāh, the most Praised One, from His boons which He granted him without his being requiring them, without a precedence or a means…, in this portrait, he ought to admire the Truthful One, the Almighty, and admire His generosity and favor which He bestowed upon him these boons without being worthy of them, preferring him over others, rather than admiring himself. In order to explain this minute Gnostic quest, let us state an example:
Let us suppose that a king reviews his troops. He looks at them and promotes one of them, not for a particular merit in him, nor beauty, nor service, to receive a promotion. This soldier ought to admire the favor of the king, his looking after him and preferring him over others without his being worthy of it, and he ought not admire his own self.
Yes, this soldier may admire himself and say, "The king is wise, fair, and does not do injustice to anyone, nor does he oppress, advance or delay except for a reason, nor does he grant a rank to someone nor extract it out of him without a cause. So, the king must have noticed in me a commendable innate attribute, so he thus preferred me over others for the promotion. Had it not been for that attribute, he would not have preferred me."
But he has to remember, at the same time, who gave him this attribute, too. Is it one of the boons of the king, the rank with which he specifically gave him rather than anyone else? Or did someone else give it to him? If it is a gift from the king, too, he is not justified for admiring himself. If we suppose that the king had given him a horse as a gift, then he gave him a servant, too, he ought not feel conceited because just as he was not being worthy of possessing the horse, he likewise did not deserve to get the servant.
Likewise, there is no difference between the king giving him the horse and the servant together and giving him the horse first then the servant. If all comes from him, this recipient ought to admire the king and his generosity unless we suppose he obtained the horse, for example, on his own and the king gave him the servant specifically. But this supposition applies to great men, to worldly kings.
As regarding the King of Kings, the originator of existence and of its requirements and consequences, such as His generosity and outgiving, the only One Who originates the being and the attribute…, such a supposition does not hold any water at all. This is so because if one, for example, is enabled to admire, and conceit finds its way to him from the venue that Allāh, the most Praised One, was the One Who enabled him to undertake such adoration, but he thinks that this ability is due to his love for Him, that such love is the reason for success of this adoration…, yet in this case he must ask himself this question: Who cast this love in my heart?
The soul will definitely answer him saying, "Surely it is Allāh Who honored me with this love." So, let him tell himself that both the love and the adoration are blessings from Allāh which He gave him without being worthy of them. So, your admiration must be of His generosity and open-handedness, for He has blessed you with existence, granted you your attributes, prepared for you the means to undertake acts of righteousness…; therefore, there is no sense for a worshipper to admire his worship, nor a scholar to admire his knowledge, nor a beautiful person to admire his beauty, nor a wealthy person to admire his wealth, for all these are due to the favor of Allāh Almighty, and their recipient is the object of the outpouring favors and generosity of Allāh. The individual himself coming into being is also a sign of His generosity and favor.
Dear kind reader: You may not have arrived at the root of the pursuit, although this pursuit is apt to win your acceptance, but there may be some insinuation in the heart that stops one from believing in it.
Unless there is belief in something, the mere knowing of it does not bear much impact. We have already stated, while discussing pretension, that conviction is not the same as knowledge. Some people may have knowledge, but since they have no conviction about what they do, this knowledge does not benefit them in anything. The cursed Eblis had the knowledge about the beginning and the return, so he said,
"You created me from fire…" (Qur'ān, 7:12),
"Grant me a respite till the Day they are raised up" (Qur'ān, 7:14),
but since he had no conviction in what he knew, he got out of the band of believers and entered into that of the unbelievers as the Holy Qur'ān clearly states:
"… he refused and was haughty; he was of those who reject faith" (Qur'ān, 2:34).
Attention ought to be given to the phrase "… and was of those who reject faith". Refusal and haughtiness about prostrating to Adam were the result of his being an already rejecter of the faith in the past. It is not just because he merely did not prostrate to Adam that he became a rejecter of the faith.
Anyhow, we submit a query in order to remove the hissing from the heart and hope after getting the answer for this question that the cursed Satan will lose hope and the heart will be ready for the light of conviction to shine in it. The question is this:
Although we know that success and blessings are from Allāh, how can we ignore our good deeds which we did and for which we anticipate to be rewarded? Had they not been our own doing, we would not have hoped for rewards for them because we do not expect to be rewarded for deeds done by others. So, if the deeds are not truly from us, what is this reward which Allāh, Praised is He, promised to grant us? And if the deeds are ours, how can we ignore them and not admire them?
This question has two answers: a real answer and a compromising one. The real answer is that since realizing it is based on witnessing those who have hearts and holding counsel with those who are adorned with good conduct and not specifically according to the understanding of most people, we do not mention it and contend ourselves with the second answer: Let us suppose that your claim about your deed is accurate, that you did the deed through your ability, although your very existence and the requirements to maintain your existence all come from Allāh, the most Praised One, yet, at the same time, had you not been in existence, your deed, will and ability would not have existed, either, nor would this deed have been done. Thereupon, if the deed comes as a result of your ability, such ability is the key to doing this deed, and this key is in the hands of Allāh Almighty.
Let us suppose the world's treasures are placed in a secure fort and its keys are in the hands of the guard. If we try for thousands of years to enter the fort by climbing over its wall, or find a way to get inside it, you will not be able to do that, nor can you fare with one dinar of the funds deposited in it. But if the guard gives you the key and grants you authority over the funds and precious stones in the fort, you will easily be able to take from them whatever you wish. Be fair and answer this question: Will you admire the guard who gave you this key, or will you admire stretching your hand and taking the money and the jewels from the safe?
There is no doubt that you see it as a blessing from the guard and a boon on you, and you do not see your taking the money as having any credit for yourself because all the role in the guard giving you the key lied in his own presence there and then. He was present, so he gave you the key. If Allāh, Praise to Him, grants the ability in you and gives you power over your will, mobilizing the incentives and prompting you, removing the obstacles and diversions from your path and facilitating for you the doing of the deed…, is it not odd if you overlook the admiration of the One Who gave you all these things and not admire His presence, favor and generosity and admire, thus, the little motion that we suppose comes out of you?!
So, open your heart's eyes, my dear one, observe the One Who really causes things, and witness with piercing eyes the very cause. Do not be deceived by Satan and by the nafs, for they both are your enemies. Their ability is only to make your false beliefs, contemptible characteristics and wrongdoings look good in your eyes. Instead of lowering your head with these matters and making you feel shy about them, they force you to admire them.
So, how can you feel secure and be indifferent if they decorate your acts of worship for you and push you towards being proud of them till all your acts of worship are rendered void, rendering your deeds in Sijjeen after you hoped it would be in 'Illiyyeen?!
Dear one, consider the conditions of those who are loved by and close to Allāh, Praise to Him, and you will see how they used to see themselves as bankrupt of good deeds towards Allāh, Praise to Him. The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (ع), wrote the following verse of poetry on the shroud of Salman, despite his acts of adoration, asceticism and the arrival at the tenth degree of conviction:
I am coming to the Generous One without rations
Of good deeds and the heart is sound.
One of the great men used to say the following whenever a storm blew out or saw thunder and lightning in the sky: "No ill befalls people except it is on my own account; had Atā' died, people would have been relieved."
After his return from `Arafāt, one of these great men was asked how he saw the standing there. He said, "I was hopeful they would all receive mercy had I only not been among them."
So, dear one, beware lest you should doubt these Islamic branches of knowledge which are supported by verses and narratives relying on witnesses about those who ruled over their hearts, for it [conceit] is the greatest veil against realizing the truth. This sickness, conceit, when coupled with this veil, God forbid, will be chronic and incurable.
Yes, my dear one, Allāh Almighty fares with the hearts of His servants, and they have conditions with which we are not familiar. We, the poor ones who are unaware of all matters, never realize the state of submission in the heart of the friends of Allāh in all our lifetime, not even for a moment, and we are justified if we do not see them because they are the outcome of the manifestation of the Greatness of the Truthful One, the most Exalted One, to the heart. It is then that the mountain of egotism and selfishness is crushed:
"When his Lord manifested His glory on the mount, He made it like dust" (Qur'ān, 7:143).
If the power of truth rests in a heart and takes its seat in it, there will be no effect in that heart for seeing the nafs and admiring it:
"When kings enter a town, they ruin it, and make the noblest of its people the meanest" (Qur'ān, 27:34).
We, the folks who are immersed in desires and afflicted with the wishes of the nafs, have no acquaintance with such worlds.
So, Praise be to Allāh! What a difference it is between the pious hearts and submissive souls [and others], between the individuals who are drowned in conceit and haughtiness, so much so that if one of them is insulted, or taken lightly, or harmed, he will think it far-fetched that Allāh, Praise to Him, will include the doer in His forgiveness, nor does he doubt that he became cursed by Allāh because of this insult. This is so although if someone harmed a Muslim, he would not denounce it as such and hope for Allāh's forgiveness for his sin.
This is due to holding himself great, to his admiration of his own self, which is ignorance, the combination of conceit, pride and taking Allāh lightly. Ignorance, foolishness and stupidity may cause some people to be defiant and say, "You will see what will happen to him because of what he did to me."
If he is accidentally afflicted with a setback, he renders it to his own self and claim it is due to his own status of goodness, and that Allāh Almighty wanted thus to cure his ailment, please his conscience and seek revenge on his behalf although this poor person sees classes of the unbelievers cursing Allāh and the Messenger and knows a group that harmed the prophets, peace be with them. Some beat those prophets and others killed them.
Yet, despite all of this, Allāh gave a respite to most of them and did not outright punish them for their actions in the life of this world, nor did He torment them on their account. Rather, some of them may have believed, so no harm touched them, neither in the life of this world nor in the hereafter. Even Wahshi, the man who killed Hamzah, the master of martyrs, the one [uncle] who was the dearest to the Messenger of Allāh (ص), harming his revered heart, was enabled to repent and to believe.
But this ignorant conceited person claims he is dearer to Allāh than the Messenger of Allāh (ص), and insulting him is more serious than killing the master of martyrs Hamzah, for Allāh, Praise to Him, sought revenge on his behalf against those who insulted him while not seeking revenge against the killers of prophets. He thus thinks he has a greater status with Allāh than that of His prophets.
In thus admiring himself and being conceited, he may have incurred the contempt of Allāh while being unaware of his own annihilation. He and his deeds are in Sijjeen. One who commits more sins than others may be nearer to Allāh Almighty than he is according to the sacred narrative in Al-Kāfi from Abū Abdullāh (ع) who says, "Allāh knows that sins are better for the believer than conceit. Had it not been so, He would not have afflicted a believer with a sin at all."