The light and the dark
Allah is the Light of the Heavens and of the Earth. The similitude of His Light is as it were a Niche wherein is a Lamp: the Lamp within a Glass: the Glass as it were a pearly Star. From a Tree right blessed is it lit, an Olive-tree neither of the East nor of the West, the Oil whereof were well-nigh luminous though Fire touched it not: Light upon Light! S. 24, 35
Sufis consider this passage to be one of the most esoteric in the Koran. In the Muslim mosque there is a niche in the wall with a light in it that you face while praying as it is positioned in the same direction as Mecca. The light represents the three forces: the lamp, the olive tree and the oil form a triad.
On one level, man is the niche, he has the possibility of receiving the light. If you relate the symbols in this passage to your inner self, the niche would symbolise the heart and the olive tree the Earth, or your body. The ripe fruit of the olive represents the completion of a particular octave of the work on yourself. From the seed of the fruit that falls to the ground a tree begins to grow. When this in turn bears fruit an octave is completed, symbolising the spiritual growth in a person to the level of man No. 4. Then a new octave must begin. The oil lights the lamp, bridging the interval between that completed octave and the beginning of the next octave, and so the cycle continues.
The Light can stand for the Teaching, in this case the Sufi teaching. Allah sends the Light down from himself to mankind. A light scale descends from God, he comes down. 'Allah is the Light of the Heavens and of the Earth.' His Light is analogous with 'the Lamp within a Glass: the Glass as it were a Pearly Star.' Then Allah descends further: 'From a Tree right blessed is it lit, an Olive-Tree neither of the East nor of the West'. The tree is not bound by any particular religious tradition.
The light can be seen as the Koran. The Koran stands above the soul. When a person reads the Koran in the right part of himself, the spiritual part, then he will be in touch with the light. The same could be said of course about the Christian gospels and other scriptures.
The light exists, but is visible only when there is something to perceive it. The part in us that perceives the light we call the spirit or soul; Ghazzali labelled it the intelligence. What perceives the light is a part of that light, a reflection of the light. The light is really seeing itself. For an orthodox Muslim to say that he was a part of God, or that God was within him, would be heresy, but Sufis believe this. Ghazzali is showing that God descends into lower and lower frequencies, then he goes back up again.
The whole exercise is for the knower to know himself. By knowing ourselves, we come to know God. You start to return to God from your perception, but you cannot return to God solely through your senses. To find God you have to use something extrasensory. The light, or the Work, enters into you and this becomes your yardstick.
Everything, on every level, is related to everything else in a much deeper way than our senses perceive. Everything that happens, the winds blowing, man's actions, the whole of life is what Hindus call lila, the play of God. Life on Earth is a part of the Sun. The Sun is above us, superior to the Earth because without the Sun reflecting the light of the centre of the galaxy there would be no heat on this Earth, it would be a dead sphere. One of the functions of the Sun is to reflect this light which comes to it from another part of the galaxy. This is a part of the play of God and although we cannot understand it, we can know that we are the recipient of this force. Without this energy coming from the centre of the galaxy the Earth would be a dead body floating in space.
The Sun, like us, receives understanding from God. It receives its light from another source, while that source receives its light from a higher source. We do not know the ultimate source, but the light continues to descend to us. The question of where it all begins is unanswerable but we can know there is this great scale. People can relate to the Earth and the Sun, and possibly to our galaxy, but anything bigger is beyond our comprehension. We cannot understand the cosmos.
You do not need to know what level you are at, all you need to know is that you are striving after the Truth. You could be told what level you were at by someone who was more developed than you, but it would be very difficult for you to work out for yourself what the next stage was because that which is below cannot understand that which is above. Sometimes people ask Abdullah questions that he cannot answer because they are beyond his experience. You may have a certain relationship with God, but He is. You cannot talk about God as though he is your buddy. We are here on this planet; he is moving everywhere and is in everything. In The Niche for Lights Al-Ghazzali is trying to show you this situation from different viewpoints.