“Science and Spirituality” by Victor Sinow
Winter 2023 Column
Bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm.
In this inaugural installment of the Insight newsletter “Science and Spirituality” column, I will explore Shah Nazar Seyyed Dr. Ali Kianfar’s dual metaphor of the heart as a light bulb, and the divine energy of Knowledge and Wisdom as the driving force of electricity that makes manifest light.
Throughout the writings and teaching of great Sufi masters, the metaphor of the lamp is often used to help students conceptualize the inner journey of purification and practice. In a letter called “An Address To The Reader,” 12th century Sufi master Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir Al-Jilani writes:
If only the lamp of divine secrets is kindled in your inner self, the rest will come, either all at once or little by little. Some you already know, some we will tell you here. Read, listen, try to understand. The dark skies of unconsciousness will be lit by divine presence and the peace and beauty of the full moon, which will rise from the horizon shedding
Light upon Light (Nur, 35)
ever rising in the sky, passing through its appointed stage as Allah has
ordained for it stages, till it (Ya Sin, 39)
shines in glory in the center of the sky, dispersing the darkness of heedlessness.
As taught by Shah Nazar Seyyed Dr. Ali Kianfar, the lamp of divine secrets is in fact the heart of a human being. In order for the lamp of the heart to kindle and shine forth with the light of Knowledge and Wisdom, it must be purified through intention, right action, and disciplined practice. To bring this point more into focus for his students, during a recent class on Surah 53 of the Holy Quran, Dr. Kianfar spoke of electricity entering a light bulb. He said, “immediately when you turn on a light switch and release the power of electricity into the bulb, the bulb reacts, because it is ready to receive. This is how the true Knowledge, not knowledge of the senses, but the divine Knowledge, enters into the heart. The heart must be ready.”
First, a primer on some scientific basics. When we refer to electricity, really, we speak of the flow of electrons. Electrons are sub-atomic particles that carry a negative charge. Much like water confined and flowing in a river from a mountain lake to the sea, electrons flow through conductors, commonly wires made from metal, from a source of high potential energy to one of low potential energy. Keeping in mind water, the greater the difference in altitude between a mountain lake and the ocean, the more swiftly, on average, water in the river that connects them will flow. In terms of physics, the water in the mountain lake has high potential energy, and the water in the ocean has low potential energy. This energy gradient totally defines the system of motion in the river. Once the water reaches the ocean, evaporation, cloud formation, and then finally rain will impart high potential energy back to the water as it replenishes the mountain lake. In this way, we can see that the flow of water in the river is not a one-way trip, but rather a complete cycle from positive energy to negative energy, and then back again.
The same concepts are true for the flow of electrons as well. The plug in our wall is like the mountain lake, a giant store of electrons with high potential energy. The literal ground of the Earth is the like the ocean, a vast repository of electrons with low potential energy. When we plug something into a wall socket, we create the river where electrons can flow from the wall socket back to the Earth. Once in the Earth, power generating stations impart energy back to those electrons and push them out onto the electrical grid, completing the cycle from positive to negative and back again.
Now, regarding the lamp, when we flip on a light switch, we are using the lightbulb in the lamp itself as a conduit for electrons to flow down the energy gradient. The filament in the lightbulb has been meticulously crafted and refined over the last century to harness energy from the electrons flowing through it and emit light. This filament is an agent of transformation. The physical energy of the river of electrons is concentrated by the material properties of the filament and transformed into light. With just the slightest alteration to the construction of the filament, light would disappear, and the flow of electrons would simply wash through the filament, leaving no trace of their passage.
The energy and flow of life operates on these very same principles. Our physical bodies are the conduits through which life itself flows. We are the river between the mountain and the sea. We are the filament between power and ground. We are awash in the eternal flow of Wisdom and Knowledge from the divine, and by the Mercy of Allah, these corporeal forms which life inhabits and we call “body” have the potential to resonate with the motion of eternity. Just as the filament concentrates and transforms the flow of electrons in the lightbulb, so does the heart concentrate and transform the flow of life. And just as the filament must be constructed precisely, following the instructions of those scientists and engineers responsible for its creation, so must the heart be precisely prepared and balanced in a manner prescribed by the spiritual masters who have themselves unlocked their own potential.
To those on the Sufi path, the core of that prescription is purification through meditation and right action. Those are the means by which we ready our hearts to intercept the flow of life and radiate the light of Knowledge. If we ignore the teachings of the masters, and simply let the energy of life wash through us, then the lamp of divine secrets will remain unlit and our beings will stay shrouded in the darkness of heedlessness, to use the words of Al-Jilani. It is important to acknowledge that too soon our bodies will lose the ability to capture and hold onto life. We are only travelers upon this Earth for a short time before our physical bodies return to dust. Thus, while life itself flows in an eternal cycle of transformation and rebirth, as human beings, we have but this one window to align the filament of our hearts with Allah and radiate the light of Ar-Rahman.