Reflections on the heart, the soul, and the spirit

By Shabbir Banoobhai

An individual’s soul has three ‘facets’: a ‘base’ soul that leads us astray; a ‘reproaching’ soul that leads us back to enlightenment; and a ‘beatified’ soul that is finally at peace as a result of being truly enlightened. The ‘soul’ is sometimes regarded as an aspect of the ‘heart’ (when the term ‘heart’ is used to refer to both these elements). 

When the soul is considered as one of the heart’s components, it is this comprehensive heart’s inclinations that are seen to fluctuate between seeking enlightenment and seeking more temporal pleasures – giving in to the base soul within it.

In this essay, the ‘soul’ is separated from the ‘heart’ – so the heart referred to is the ‘innermost heart’ that contains the clearest Divine light (as we have ‘extracted’ the ‘soul’ – whose baser element can prevent us from knowing this light – from our definition of the ‘heart’). The soul can now be regarded as a ‘mirror’ that reflects the Divine light in the heart.

The ‘lower consciousness’ refers to the ‘base’ soul that is incapable of knowing the Divine, as it is the epitome of self-consciousness – a barrier to deeper spiritual knowing. A soul with a high capacity for absence of self-consciousness becomes a ‘beatified’ or enlightened soul; providing us with a sublime human experience (or knowing) of the Divine.

The soul may also be considered a ‘band of consciousness’ that holds the individual’s potential for knowing Divine light. Or it may be considered a ‘filter’ that either allows (knowable) light into the heart or prevents it from entering.

It can succeed partially, or completely, in removing the barrier of self-consciousness. In the process it is imbued with the light it knows or reflects. The extent of its success depends on how ‘subtle it is capable of becoming when guided by the intellect, and the heart’s innate grace.

The change can be an especially tangible one when the individual recites a sacred text, such as the Qur’an, or listens to a sacred text being recited. The (Divine) music inherent in the recitation generates a tremor that unnerves the soul, dispels its self-consciousness, and overwhelms it with Divine consciousness, in the process making the soul pure, and translucent, so that it becomes a soul at peace; a ‘mirror’ reflecting the Divine light in the heart.

It is God who places this desire for enlightenment in the heart, as the purpose of ‘creation’ is to allow God to know Himself or Herself – for God says: ‘I was a Hidden Treasure and I desired to be known. Therefore I created the world in order that I might be known.’  God also says: ‘I cannot be contained by the entire universe, but I am contained in the heart of a believing servant.’

The ‘Hidden Treasure’ is a treasure of light, or knowledge. ‘Creating the world in order to be known’ is unveiling the already existing hidden potential of the treasure – so that God, (and) the hidden treasure, (as ‘us’), can be known (loved); become known (love).

In an instant the veil of ‘other consciousness’ is born; and God’s light  spreads – creating universe upon universe; the tide of time begins to ebb and flow; God’s light becomes known; God is loved, and love became the means of returning to oneness.

As regards day-to-day living, individuals who are able to energize a specific attribute of God, such as the attribute of love, are able to become totally selfless, and capable of devoting themselves entirely to the service of humanity. Others, who may have a particular innate capacity and who are able to energize a related attribute, say the attribute of wealth (God ‘owns everything’), are able to become very wealthy, if this is what they consciously choose.

Therefore there is almost no limit to what any individual, who is able to ‘energize’ any of the attributes of God, can do – through selecting, and letting into his or her consciousness, the quality or colour of light that can transform him or her into a desired state of being; the various hues (and combination of hues) of light bringing to life the grace-determined potential for knowing light within each unique being. ‘To energize’ means first to desire, and then to build that desire into ‘love’.

The ‘base’ or ‘self-conscious’ soul prefers its own ‘light’ to the Divine light in the heart; and therefore forms a conscious barrier of ‘self’ or ‘darkness’ that prevents knowable light from entering the heart and knowing the Divine light within. Effectively, it prevents the Divine light in the heart from becoming knowable; from becoming love. Any act of remembrance of God can help to remove this barrier.

Paradoxically, this light is both present in the heart and not present in the heart at the same time; it may be thought of as continuously ‘ entering’ and ‘leaving’ the  (individual) human ‘heart’ – actually, the individual’s consciousness of the ‘Divine heart’. Because the ‘entering and exiting’ happens so quickly, our consciousness is left with the impression that this light is permanently present in ‘our’ heart, creating the illusion of a separate heart (that belongs to each individual).

This Divine light may also be considered the spirit. The tremor created by the pure light within the heart in its desire to be known – if its desire to be known is strong – frees the soul of its denseness, making it translucent. Knowable (external) light meets, recognizes, and becomes ‘one’ with the Divine light inside: resulting in ‘light knowing light’.

The quality of the knowable light that is let into the heart by a ‘soul at peace’ reflects the quality of the Divine light that already exists in that heart – or exists in that individual’s consciousness of Divine light in the Divine heart. This is how God sees or knows God. God sees or knows Himself or Herself through His or Her own light in His or Her own heart – with ‘our’ soul providing the ‘mirror’ for this purpose.

When we are asleep our self-consciousness is effectively suspended. Whilst we are asleep, the Divine light within ‘our’ heart to all intents and purposes ‘stays’ or ‘remains’ within the Divine heart. So in this sense we are closer to God when we are asleep than when we are awake. Because we are still alive, the light is still ‘ours’, but because we are asleep, the light has no need to be ‘within us’ and effectively ‘remains within the Divine’. In sleep, we cannot consciously create barriers between Divine light and knowable light. Without the barrier, in sleep, we actually ‘know’ God. But naturally, we are not conscious of this knowing.

With death the loss of our ability to suspend our self-consciousness becomes permanent. For this reason we can be ‘Divine’ when our hearts are alive and our egos are ‘dead’, but once we are physically dead we can no longer be ‘Divine’ in this special way unless we were already ‘Divine’ before our physical death.

The spirit never dies because it is never ours.  It is God’s light that has been ‘allocated’ to ‘us’ for a while; it is never permanently within ‘our’ heart; in fact it is never really within ‘our’ heart, and hence never ‘ours ’. That is why the ‘lamp’ of the heart is said (in the Qur’an) to be ‘lit from a blessed tree whose source is neither of the East nor of the West’.  

What, we may ask next, happens to the soul; how does this critical spiritual element of our being fare after ‘death’? If the spirit returns to God, remains with God, or never really leaves God, what becomes of the soul? The soul, the ‘potential’ for understanding God assigned to the individual, has the ‘scent’ of the spirit imprinted upon it at the moment of death – the quality of this ‘scent of enlightenment’ depending on the quality of the light that the soul allowed into the heart – or reflected.

More enlightened souls will always remain brighter than less enlightened souls, and have less consciousness of the physical after death. If a soul fulfilled its potential during its ‘earthly’ existence, its existence in eternity will be blissful. The pure soul will glow with Divine light, its potential for reflecting Divine light (becoming ‘love’) fully realized.

This essay is part of a collection (‘a mountain is an upside down valley’) that is being prepared for publication later in the year.