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  Every Branch in Me — Who are we as "human" beings? Back to the List of Slideshows
slide 14 of 19

Many people know only a life of the senses. Although we often associate this with a kind of shallowness and refusal to ponder life's deeper mysteries, our senses are also "branches" that guide us toward a profound knowledge of God's Presence in the world and in our ourselves.

The well-known writer on esoteric Islam, Jean-Louis Michon, wrote an essay titled "The Vocation of Man According to the Koran" (1)  which shows how a tradition that has been given to humankind as a guidance (in this case, Islam) can include in its central scripture specific reminders on how the senses can provide an opening to God's Presence. The citations in the passage are from the Qur'an.

…in the words of the Prophet, man has been created “in the image of God” (‘alâ sûrati-Allâh). Let us now turn our attention to this form that is so beautiful that it resembles the Divine.

Externally, man is endowed with five senses that give him the ability to:

see  the blessings of God, His signs, and His reflection “on the horizons” (according to a Koranic expression, XLI, 53);

hear the song of creation, for “All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Him” (LIX, 24 et passim);

smell  the scent of flowers, symbol of the invisible presence of the Creator within his work;

taste  the fruits of His generosity: the dates, pomegranates, figs and grapes that, even after the Fall, have retained the taste of Paradise;

touch,  so that he may know her whom God has given him as a companion.

Man is also endowed with inner faculties, which permit him to enter into contact not only with visible things and beings, but also with the Invisible, with the hidden face of things. They are the memory, the imagination, the will, the reasoning mind and, above all, the spirit (rûh), which God has breathed into him. Spirit is also intellect (‘aql), direct and intuitive intelligence that is able to grasp the deeper nature of things and beings without passing through the reasoning process.

Finally, man is endowed with the faculty of speech, which makes him fundamentally different from all other beings in the animal kingdom.

(1)  Taken from page 218 of Every Branch in Me,  this chapter is also found in Fragments of Infinity: Essays in Religion and Philosophy, edited by Arvind Sharma, Prism Press, copyright 1991, pages 135-152.

Jean-Louis Michon
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