What is spirit (rooh)? Can spirit's essence be comprehended? Is spirit merely brain? What is the relationship between spirit and body?
Submitted by on Wed, 10/03/2010 - 10:50
Dear Brother / Sister,
The following definitions are made for spirit:
“Life, liveliness, breath, Gabriel…”
“A law which has got an independent being”
“A law from metaphysical world, which has been given an independent being in order to control the body. A fine being which can pursue its existence when separated from the body.”
Some people asked the Prophet about spirit. He did not answer, waiting for revelation. The revelation which was sent down was quite clear. “Say, ‘The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord’.” The existence of the spirit was confirmed, yet its essence was not explained because it was impossible for the people to comprehend it. Human mind was incapable of comprehending a being from the “metaphysical world.”
Metaphysical world is the world of beings which are freed from size, weight, form and color. Words which are used to describe beings, such as long, short, blue, yellow, rounded, straight, heavy, light and etc, do not have equivalents in the metaphysical world. How can minds which are limited by measurements comprehend what cannot be measured?
It can only know through reasoning that every work has got a doer. Therefore, pondering the magnificent work called Cosmos; it gets to recognize the Creator. And it admits that there cannot be an act without an actor. From this point of view, it approves the existence of an invisible essence, in other words, the spirit, which controls the body perfectly. Besides that is what is expected from it.
The following is stated in a hadith, “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” A prominent Islamic philosopher says: “O man who considers himself a human! Read yourself…” In this sense, one has to try to get to know himself. Starting from ourselves, we are going to reach Him!
What do we know about spirit?
We do not know the spirit itself. Yet we can converse about some of its characteristics. When the body reaches a certain growth in mother’s womb, it is given a spirit.
The spirit, which is the sultan of body, is a conscious, luminous, live being with an external existence. It was created later; however, it is immortal. It is one and cannot be separated or divided into pieces. It is present everywhere in the body with its effects; however, it is not limited to a specific place. It is neither inside nor outside the body. It is neither close to nor far from it. It handles everything at the same time and one thing does not hinder another. It resembles the laws in nature. If law was conscious and wore a physical body, it would be characterized as spirit. A spirit is aware of its own existence and of other beings.
The spirit does things with the help of the physical and non-physical devices it is equipped with. It realizes with its sense, comprehends with its mind, evaluates and decides with its conscience, plans with its imagination, restores information with its memory and loves with its heart. It has got too many skills to count. Some of them are manifested with physical organs. The spirit holds with its hand, sees with its eyes, hears with its ears and walks with its feet… It is dependent on the body as long as it is in the body. Its movements are restricted to what the body can do. Death is when it is freed from the prison of the body and gains freedom. After that, it does not need a body anymore. It sees without eyes, hears without ears and thinks without brain. It waits without a body until the end of time. It gains a brand-new body in the afterlife again.
Our friends ask: “What is spirit like?” I say: “I do not know” and I continue: By saying I do not know, I give the real answer to your question.”
The most advanced knowledge about things, essences of which cannot be known, can be explained by saying “I do not know.” If I did not say so but made some predictions such as “it is tall or short”, “it is here or over there in the body”, or “it is of this or that color”; I would only deceive myself and others. This is because spirit is not the same kind as the body. If one of them is a house, the other is the guest in it. If one of them is a workbench, the other one is the master.
Neither the parts of a house resemble the organs man, nor do the devices of a workbench resemble its master’s organs.
The body and the universe… Both are hard and physical. And the spirit is fine and luminous. In this sense, neither the body nor the universe can give us information about the essence of the spirit. All the predictions we can make depending on them are bound to be deceptive… It is something like looking at the earth and making predictions about gravity.
In Nur Collection, the endlessness of spirit is expressed as follows:
“Spirit is not subject to devastation and dissolution because it is simple and has got unity.”
“Simple” here means that it does not consist of other things. Indeed, one’s spirit is an independent world. It is not a mixture, yet it contains so many things!.. However, those things do not spoil its oneness, its unity. Its mind, memory, senses and emotions resemble neither the organs of body nor the elements of a chemical composition… They do not have separate personalities. Can you ever imagine a mind alone, a self-control alone or a memory alone?
The perfect creation of spirit is a major door for people to find the straight way… Through it, one can understand to some extent the reality that Allah cannot be thought separately from His holy attributions and His existence.
Is spirit merely brain?
Human is a knowledgeable being. He knows both himself and other beings. And he knows that he knows, too. His knowledge is conscious. It is different from a computer disc. It is possible to save lots of information on a disc too; however, that disc is unaware of the knowledge saved on itself. Neither does it have a desire to learn. Desiring knowledge and trying to learn are not characteristics of materials.
Atoms which do not have knowledge will never be knowledgeable no matter how perfectly they can come together. And brain is made up of those unknowledgeable and unconscious atoms. It transforms and restores knowledge, yet it does it unconsciously. It is not any different from a computer disc. It is just a device obeying rules coming from a being called spirit.
The reality of “free will” is a wonder on its own. Choosing, deciding, distinguishing, desiring and refusing are not the jobs of an unknowledgeable mass of flesh. A man who claims that the brain, which is the most perfect organ, has got free will is ridiculous. It does not control, it merely does what the spirit wants.
The brain, which consists of billions of cells, is such a magnificent computer that it dazzles people’s minds. However, like any other computer, it needs to be programmed by someone. The brain resembles a control room which has been made to operate packaged software produced by the spirit and transform it to other parts of the body. It does not have the free will to seek for new ways, different opportunities and other jobs.
We can make it say: “I am a computer”. However, this would be like a tape-recorder. No computer can excel itself, similarly, no brain can excel itself. It only operates within a certain program.
That wonderful device called brain leads the spirit to the Creator, not to denial of Creator. While we know that a simple calculator cannot be without a producer, how can we deny that there is an expert producer of brain, who has got a limitless knowledge and free will
What is the relationship between the spirit and the body?
Spirit: “Life, liveliness, breath, Gabriel…”, “A law which has got an independent being”. “A law from metaphysical world, which has been given an independent being in order to control the body. A fine being which can continue its existence even when it is separated from the body.”
Just as a hard, tough tree bears a fine and elegant fruit, a being which has come out of this enormous and lifeless universe and which does not resemble it: human… While the sun burns, human gets burnt, too; while the winds blow, man breathes; while rivers flow, human drinks to the repletion; the earth produces crops, human consumes them; while the tree is lifeless, man is alive; while universe does not see and hear, human sees and hears…
From now on, that perfect fruit is the eyes and ears of the tree of the universe. With that honorable title, it has been given a major responsibility. Whatever it served to, the universe served it too; whatever it listened to, the universe listened to it too and whatever it looked at, all the servants looked at it too…
There is an invisible lord which pleases or grieves this world, beyond this visible body-house of that fruit called human being. It can reach out its hands to whatever fruit it wants. It can focus its eyes on whatever direction it wants. It can move its feet wherever it wants. All this universe and human body were made for this lord. Colors are for its eyes. Tastes are for its tongue. Knowledge and wisdom are for its mind.
This universe and the body resemble two pages in the presence of the spirit. It reads whichever it wishes to read: the body or the universe… The body and the universe are, from a different point of view, like two different meals in front of spirit. It can taste from both. It loves both of them and thanks the Creator for both of them.
There are so many thought-provoking signs, so many scenes to draw lessons from and so many astonishing pictures in front of spirit: observing the universe, contemplating the body, paying attention to the perfect relationship between the universe and the body, being amazed by dazzling relationship between the body and spirit and through this last one, believing in divine channels between the world of unseen and the world of seen, that is, the world we live in…
Moreover, the spirit is incapable of comprehending its own essence, which paves the way to many realities… Let us emphasize a few of those matters, each of which is finer than the other: the relationship between the spirit and the body is really a wonder. The body is a servant and the spirit is its lord. The servant is obedient to its lord. Tears flowing down from the body’s eyes hint grief. What grieves is neither the eyes nor the machine called body onto which the eyes are mounted. As a matter of fact, the body has got nothing to do with grief. Grief in the spirit manifests itself in the form of tears in eyes.
We shout to a friend who is going on the reverse direction: “Wait, turn back!” In the addressing, our addressee is neither his eardrum nor his feet. The ear is just a receiver. And the feet are unaware of whether they are on the right way or the wrong way.
The acting of the spirit on behalf of the body symbolizes the fact that the world of unseen rules over the world of seen. The feet do not walk on the direction they want, nor does the world move around as it wants. The eyes do not see based on their own will, nor does the Sun scatter its light as it wants.
The body is subject to many influences in this world. However, the influence of the spirit on the body is superior to all of them. Extreme cold has got negative influences on the body too, yet it is never as negative as the influence of betrayal, cruelty and disloyalty have got on it. Some kinds of food can increase blood pressure, yet this increase would look very insignificant when compared to the influences that sadness and excitement makes on the body…
The relationship between the spirit and the body resembles the relationship between sound and meaning in a sense. The sound is the body of the meaning and the meaning is the spirit of the sound. This spirit in neither to the right nor to the left of the body; and it is neither inside nor outside of it… Meaning does not need sound to pursue its existence. It can stay in the memory silently and occur in the mind quietly; and stay in the heart without a word. However, when it wants to be seen and known, then, it is the duty of the sound. When the sound reaches the ear of the addressee, it completes its lifespan. Yet, meaning continues to live.
Meaning existed even before sound. Yet it became audible with sound. And it will continue to exist after sound, too. The spirit is Allah’s law and the body is Allah’s creature. He organizes and controls the body with the spirit. On condition that one is aware that Allah does not resemble any of His creatures, he can find many signs indicating divine realities in his body. When applying those signs into reality, one needs to be very careful. One should not make the mistake of likening the sign to the reality. A point in a map refers to a town, yet it would be ignorance to liken that point to the town. An article indicates to its writer and proves his art. However, it would be nonsense to resemble the writer to the article or to seek writer’s attributions in the article’s features.
When we see the matter from this point of view, we can find some signs in or spirit, pointing out to some realities:
The spirit is the sultan of the world called body. It is one and only, it has not got any partners.
The spirit does not resemble any part or organ of the body.
The spirit itself does not resemble the self of body, nor do the spirit’s characteristics resemble the body’s characteristics.
There cannot be a resemblance between the spirit’s contemplating something and the stomach’s digesting a morsel.
The spirit is not born and it does not give birth; it does not occupy a place in the body. All of those are characteristics of the body.
It is impossible to comprehend the essence of spirit. Whatever prediction made about its self would merely be shirk.
If there were two spirits in a body, there would be mischief in that body …
No matter what one gets through the body, thankfulness must be for the spirit.
The works which the spirit does in the body are without touching, just as the Sun’s rotating the planets around it.
There is no difference for the spirit between controlling a single cell and all cells. The former is no harder than the latter, or the latter is no easier than the former…
From a different point of view:
Some people liken the body to a cage and the spirit to a bird. There are many fine lessons for us to draw from that nice simile. Some of them are as follows:
The body is for the spirit; the spirit is not for the body.
By painting the cage, the bird will not look any more beautiful. Healthiness of the body cannot be an indication of the maturity of the spirit.
By making the cage larger, you cannot improve the bird. Its way of improvement is much more different.
The bird watches the outside from the cage; yet it is not the cage that sees.
“Sight is a sense, through which the spirit watches the world like through a window.” (The Words)
Nobody will keep a bird without a cage in their house. For how many days can we host even a closest relative or friend of us after his/her death?
The bird existed before the cage; and it will continue to exist after flying away from the cage.
This palace of universe is just a room for the spirit. And the body is a cage. When the spirit flies away from the cage, it leaves the palace as well and arrives in larger worlds.
Happy are the spirits that do not get drowned in cages and that are not deceived by the room and that do not lose themselves!
What does it mean, “The spirit is free”?
In Nur Collection, very nice determinations about the essence of spirit; that is, “what the spirit is” have been made. In one of them, it is stated that death is “the freedom of the spirit”.
Freedom means not being bounded, being free.
All of Allah’s attributions are unique. That is to say; no other power can restrict, control or hinder the works of Divine attributions.
The spirit, which is a conscious law of Allah, has to comply with human body’s conditions as long as it is in charge of it. As it is implied with the expression “Sight is a sense, through which the spirit watches the world like through a window”, humankind’s watching the world is restricted to what the eye can see. Unless it opens that window called the eye, it cannot see anything. And when it closes its eyes and falls to sleep, doors of another world open for it. And it starts to see all different things in that new world.
When one is awake, he can see the environment around him only. In order to see another environment, his body has to go there.
However, during dreams, spirit, which is freed from the body to a certain extent, gains the opportunity to watch different environments with closed eyes.
Yet when one is awake, his body is bounded by time. The eyes can watch events happening at the present time only. On the other hand, during dreams, the spirit can wander around previous times of years and centuries and see and talk to many people who passed away to the barzakh.
In Nur Collection, the following is stated, “death is the big brother of sleep”. Sleep is the little brother of death (The Letters, First Letter). In this sense, spirit’s freedom in sleep is very insignificant compared to its freedom after death.
When the spirit leaves the body, it is freed from its restrictions. It does not need eyes to see, feet to walk, hands to hold and ears to hear anymore. That is to say; its sight, walking, holding and audition are set free from the body’s restrictions.
Sight is an attribution of the spirit. When one is awake, he can see far distances by using this attribution; he can reach the sun and the moon at once. Nevertheless, as spirit is bounded by the body, it is deprived of the opportunity to travel to those places in reality.
A spirit that has left its body gains the opportunity to visit the places which it merely watched from a distance in worldly life.
Death is for the body, not for the spirit. The body, which was created with reasons, in the course of time and by stages, starts to decay by stages and quite quickly as soon as the spirit leaves it. However, since the spirit was created without reasons and at once, it was blessed with the boon of immortality. Those who develop slowly by stages come to an end again by stages. The spirit is not bounded by that rule. The spirit will live eternally thanks to Allah’s making it eternal and that He will not take this boon bestowed on it back.
According to the hadith which says “Die before you are dead”, the freedom of the spirit can be realized to some extent while alive. The condition for it is the spirit’s victory over the body. In Nur Collection, the following is stated, “Works of saintly people whose spirits rule over their bodies occur at the speed of spirit.” (Mesnevi-i Nuriye, Şemme). In another book, the following is advised, “Quit your animalism, leave your materiality, and enter the level of life of heart and spirit.” (The Flashes, Seventeenth Flash).
In this sense, when a true believer goes beyond his “vegetal and material” aspect which we can summarize as “growth” and his “animalistic” aspect which expresses all of the functions such as eating, drinking, seeing, hearing, walking, marriage and advances in his “humane” aspect which is centered around “thinking and believing”, the heart and spirit come to the foreground.
Such person’s spirit is somehow free. Nevertheless, this freedom is not leaving the body permanently like it is in death, but it is “not being servant of the worldly life and creatures”.
Such a heart is freed from all restrictions, which lower-self desires, such as “high position, status, wealth, fame and reputation” from then on. He removes the world, as taught in Nur Collection, from his heart, not from his works. He does not break all relations off with the world, yet considers the world a field of afterlife and strives to keep his life on the line of lawfulness and goodness. Therefore, he makes all boons of the world means for the bliss in the hereafter.
One who succeeds it does not drown in the world but walks on it. He does not waste his life just for meeting the needs of his body. He attaches importance to the body only as much as it deserves. He meets lawful needs of his lower-self without extravagating. In addition, he knows very well that the true reason of his creation is neither serving this mortal world nor this mortal body; but it is preparing the spirit, which is immortal, for the eternal life.
A conscious spirit like this reaches the blessed end informed in hadith of the Messenger of Allah “Die before you are dead” by gaining freedom through escaping from restrictions such as the body, world and lower-self.
Freedom in the world is avoiding attaching too much importance to causes and especially powerful and wealthy people, getting rid of the lower-self’s restrictions, unreasonable and unlawful desires, avoiding being taken in by mortal aspects of the world and thinking that the aim of life is feeding the body.
A person, who succeeds it, experiences Heaven in this world. And in the afterlife, he can be present in thousands of places at the same time, as his spirit is victorious over his body, and he can taste thousands of delights and joys.
As a matter of fact, all true believers’ spirits will be victorious over their bodies in that land of bliss. However, the state of those who had this honor in this world will be much more different than the others in the afterlife.
Alaaddin Başar (Ph. D.)
Questions on Islam
- What is the real existance of a living thing(spl:Human) spirit or body?
- Question 51: How does a person’s hitting his head somewhere affect the spirit, which is a being independent of the body? This question made philosophers think a lot in the previous centuries.
- What kind of relation is there between spirit and brain?
- If it is the spirit that gives the feeling of vitality to the body and if the body dies when the spirit leaves, what happens to the spirit when we are anesthetized while undergoing surgery?
- Question 3: Do cloned beings not have spirits?
- First Source: The independence of the spirit from the body.
- Why is the approval of heart important in belief as medically the heart is controlled by mind?
- What is man? How can a human being be described?
- How do materialists see body and spirit?