The Alchemy of Happiness / Al-Ghazzali

A pretty refreshing book that I would recommend to those that have an interest in Theology, Mysticism or Sufism. Al-Ghazzali, a philosopher, theologian, jurist and a mystic, touches on subjects such as “Knowledge of Self”, “Knowledge of God”, “The Love of God”, “Knowledge of this World” in order to express the quest for happiness. In the modern world, phrases such as ‘be yourself’, ‘express yourself’, ‘discover yourself’, ‘know yourself’ are thrown around, whether it is written on your t-shirt or is used as a slogan of a campaign But modernity never tells us what the ‘self’ is. And the book constantly reminds the reader that the truth is found inside of us.

  • “The heart resembles a pure mirror, you must know, in this particular, that when a man falls asleep, when his senses are closed, and when the heart, free and pure from blameable affections, is confronted with the preserved tablet, then the tablet reflects upon the heart the real states and hidden forms inscribed upon it. In that state the heart sees most wonderful forms and combinations. But when the heart is not free from impurity, or when, on waking, it busies itself with things of sense, the side towards the tablet will be obscured, and it can view nothing. For, although in sleep the senses are blunted, the imaginative faculty is not, but preserves the forms reflected upon the mirror of the heart. But as the perception does not take place by means of the external senses, but only-in the imagination, the heart does not see them with absolute clearness, but sees only a phantom. But in death, as the sense are completely separated and the veil of the body is removed, the heart can contemplate the invisible world and its hidden mysteries, without a veil, just as lightning or the celestial rays impress the external eye.”
  • The true greatness of man lies in his capacity for eternal progress, otherwise in this temporal sphere he is the weakest of all things, being subject to hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and sorrow. Those things he takes most delight in are often the most injurious to him, and those things which benefit him are not to be obtained without toil and trouble. As to his intellect, a slight disarrangement of matter in his brain is sufficient to destroy or madden him; as to his power, the sting of a wasp is sufficient to rob him of ease of sleep; as to his temper, he is upset by the loss of a Sixpence; as to his beauty, he is little more than nauseous matter covered with a fair skin. Without frequent washing he becomes utterly repulsive and disgraceful. In truth, man in this world is extremely weak and contemptible; it is only in the next that he will be of value, if by means of the “alchemy of happiness” he rises from the rank of beasts to that of angels. Otherwise his condition will be worse than the brutes, which perish and turn to dust. It is necessary for him, at the same time that he is conscious of his superiority as the climax of created things, to learn to know also his helplessness, as that too is one of the keys to the knowledge of God.”

5 thoughts on “The Alchemy of Happiness / Al-Ghazzali

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  1. He seems to get into the metaphysical, with this book, predicting ways to be happy both in this realm and in the afterlife. But how does he know there is an afterlife? Is he making an assumption? And is he admitting that it is an assumption? Or is he making an authoritarian statement, as if he knows for sure?

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    1. In some places he talks about how it is illogical for the afterlife to not exist by presenting his reasoning and analogies. In other places he uses verses or sayings of prophets in order to build an argument which signals one to devote himself/herself into spirituality and seek God’s love and love God. He sees afterlife as “meeting a Friend” in which friend refers to God. By saying so, he also mentions why death is not to be feared but to be treated as a welcome. In short, his arguments are a mixture of his reasoning and his faith. But I would say, it mostly is faith based on the holy book and prophets.

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      1. I like his message, and messages like his. And that’s because I like to assume there is an afterlife. Assuming otherwise is depressing. But I wish people who teach about an afterlife would admit that they don’t know for sure if they’re right. Although maybe if Al-Ghazzali had done that, he would have been stoned to death as a heretic.

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      2. True. And I think that his following words coincide with your thinking.
        “But, should he say that a future life is possnble but that the doctrine is so involved in doubt and mystery that it is impossible to decide whether it be true or not, then one may say to him: “Then you had better give it the benefit of the doubt! Suppose you are about to eat food and someone tells you a serpent has spat venom on it, you would probably refrain and rather endure the pangs of hunger than eat it, though your informant may be in jest or lying. Or suppose you are ill and a charm-writer says, “Give me a dirham and I will write a charm which you can tie round your neck and which will cure you,” you would probably give the dirham on the chance of deriving benefit from the charm. Or if an astrologer says, “When the moon has entered a certain constellation, drink such and such a medicine, and you will recover,” though you may have very little faith in astrology, you very likely would try the experiment on the chance that he might be right. And do you not think that reliance is as well placed on the words of all the prophets, saints, and holy men, convinced as they were of a future life, as on the promise of a charm-writer or an astrologer? People take perilous voyages in ships for the sake of merely probable profit, and will you not suffer a little pain of abstinence now for the sake of eternal joy hereafter? “.

        I personally found his writing and thinking style really stand out from other scholars, considering that he has lived a millennium ago. So, it was a delightful read.

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      3. Well there you ago. He at least seems to allow for doubt of an afterlife, while encouraging the reader to gamble on its existence. Sort of like Pascal’s Wager. I find that refreshing.

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