The Secrets of the Self (6)

In the final paragraph of his summary of Asrar-e Khudi, Iqbal addresses one of his favorite themes—the ideal human personality whose manifestation on a large-scale would represent the culmination of millions of years of spiritual evolution.

While Iqbal tends to talk about that ideal personality as if it were a single (male) individual, this is most likely a rhetorical device to emphasize the unique individuality of the ideal human being. For Iqbal, the Qur’anic term khalifah (vicegerent) and the Sufi term al-Insan al-Kamil (the complete/whole person) are essentially synonymous, though he also uses a variety of other terms to describe that personality.

Who is this khalifah, this fullest manifestation of the highest of human potentialities? While it is true that as a species humanity has not yet reached that exalted stage of spiritual evolution, it is also true there have been many persons in history who did achieve that status at an individual level. The fact that such individuals have actually existed, and may exist among us even today, establishes beyond any doubt that the ideal personality is not a fanciful or unrealistic image of what we ought to be but can never actually become; instead, that ideal is well within the realm of possibility. Indeed, it is the very goal for which God has created the human being in the first place; it is the telos for the entire evolutionary process–not only of life in the narrow sense of the word but of the entire cosmos. The attainment of divine vicegerency is exactly why we are here; it is the meaning of existence.

This is how Iqbal describes the khalifah.

He is the completest Ego, the goal of humanity, the acme of life both in mind and body; in him the discord of our mental life becomes a harmony. The highest power is united in him with the highest knowledge.  In his life thought and action, instinct and reason become one. He is the last fruit of the tree of humanity, and all the trial of a painful evolution are justified because he is to come at the end. He is the real ruler of mankind; his kingdom is the kingdom of God on earth. Out of the richness of his nature he lavishes the wealth of life on others, and brings them nearer and nearer to himself. The more we advance in evolution, the nearer we get to him.  In approaching him we are raising ourselves in the scale of life. The development of humanity both in mind and body is a condition precedent to his birth. For the present he is a mere ideal; but the evolution of humanity is tending towards the production of an ideal race of more or less unique individuals who will become his fitting parents.

This is almost a poetic description for what are supposed to be real, actual human beings. There is a clear note of passionate longing in Iqbal’s prose—the result of his ardent desire to see that personality, along with the knowledge that such a personality is not likely to appear in his own life-time!

Let’s note some of the qualities that Iqbal attributes to the ideal human being. These include (1) maximum completeness of khudi, (2) fullest growth of both mind and body, (3) perfect harmony among otherwise discordant principles, (4) unification of power and knowledge, (5) unification of thought and action, (6) unification of instinct and reason, (7) natural claim to leadership, (8) effortless generosity, (9) worthy of imitation, (10) inevitable destiny of humankind. Among these qualities, I believe that the most crucial one is  number (3). I say this because Iqbal provides several examples of this quality by mentioning the normally discordant principles of mind/body, power/knowledge, thought/action, and instinct/reason. Even quality number (1) seems like another way of expressing the same idea.

For Iqbal, the normal human condition is marked by a state of disharmony. This disharmony exists within each individual, and so it inevitably manifests in social life as well. Disharmony within gives birth to disharmony without; and disharmony without precludes or obstructs our attempts to progress towards achieving a state of harmony within. Only few individuals are able to transcend this state of inner discord at any given time; most of us, on the other hand, tend to be imbalanced or asymmetrical in most areas of our lives. And we suffer the consequences.

Human beings use only a fraction of their potential capacity; part of the problem is that they are typically fragmented from within. If a person is routinely torn between the opposing demands of mind and body, reason and instinct, thought and action, much energy will be spent on managing this civil war, while only a small amount will be left for pursuing specific objectives. The result is not only a lack of stability in one’s personality, but also a chronic inability to reach one’s desired goals—whether material, social, or spiritual. Furthermore, since there is literally a war going on inside each person, one is not likely to experience inner peace unless these opposing forces are somehow reconciled. Finally, since our inner discord feeds into the societies we create, so long as there is no peace within the human personality, there are very few chances that there will be peace in the world at large.

The ideal, of course, is a fully integrated human personality, one in which all of its discordant forces are in a state of perfect harmony.  This does not mean, however, that in the ideal personality the mind would have decisively defeated the body or that reason would have finally vanquished the force of instincts; such would only be another form of imbalance. The word “harmony” implies that opposite tendencies or principles continue to exist and play their natural roles, but that their mutual collaboration produces something higher—something of  an entirely different quality than the products of any of the forces acting alone. The end product, in other words, would be more than the sum of its parts.  This is the classical ideal of “unity within plurality.” It is also one way of interpreting the Islamic imperative of tawhid, which literally means “making one.”

Iqbal’s use of the word “harmony” presupposes a musical metaphor. It is interesting to note that Iqbal had received some initial training in classical Indian music, and that he continued to appreciate good singers. To follow his metaphor, imagine dozens of instruments being played together, but without anyone knowing what piece of music they are supposed to play; the result would be a cacophony of unpleasant noises. Add to this the missing ingredient of a common goal—a single piece of music plus a conductor—and the result could be a highly moving performance by what is now an orchestra.

What does this mean for the evolution of personality? Nothing in human nature is evil or unnecessary; as such, nothing needs to be suppressed, removed, or disowned. Everything has its place and its assigned role. The only reason why things do not automatically fall into place is the lack of inner agreement on which goal is to be pursued—or, to use the musical metaphor, there is no consensus on which music is to be played and which conductor is to be followed.

Integration among the diverse, and diverging, forces of human personality requires a unifying element. This brings us back to what Iqbal said earlier in the same text, i.e., that love is “assimilative action” in relation to certain values and ideals. The only thing that can potentially harmonize the normally opposing and conflicting forces of personality is their agreement to love a single ideal. Since love involves assimilating or internalizing one’s ideal, however, different ideals will have different consequences on one’s personality. An ideal that is itself inconsistent will not bring the desired inner harmony; it will ultimately give rise to even greater fragmentation.

The only ideal whose love can bring about the ultimate integration of personality is God. In the Islamic tradition, one of the names of God is al-Salam, which can mean “the Peace” as well as “the Perfect.” God is perfect because all of God’s innumerable attributes are in an overall harmony; there is no inner conflict in God, which is another way of saying that God is peace. As far as creatures are concerned, including human beings, God is the only source for peace and perfection; any peace that we may find in the world—or any perfection, for that matter—is only a dim reflection of the divine attribute expressed in the divine name al-Salam.  In Iqbal’s view, the imperative of creating within oneself the attributes of God has at least partly to do with the reconciliation of opposites within one’s own personality (and, by implication, in the world at large). Whether we call this imperative imitatio dei, fortifying one’s khudi, or loving God with all one’s soul, mind, and strength—makes little difference.

At the end of his remarks, Iqbal manages to add a somewhat cryptic, and highly tantalizing, statement about the political implications of his philosophy of the self.

Thus the Kingdom of God on earth means the democracy of more or less unique individuals, presided over by the most unique individual possible on this earth. Nietzsche had a glimpse of this ideal race, but his atheism and aristocratic prejudices marred his whole conception.

Given that he wrote the summary of Asrar-e Khudi primarily for the benefit of Prof. Nicholson and other Westerners, Iqbal’s reference to the Christian (and Jewish) concept of the “Kingdom of God” is highly suggestive. He recognizes that the “Kingdom of God,” at least according to the canonical Gospels, refers to an altered reality that is achievable by humanity on this earth and during this life.  It’s a utopia, no doubt, but one that is actually realizable in historical time. Such will be possible, of course, only with the grace of God; yet the grace of God alone is insufficient for bringing about the “Kingdom of God” on earth. According to Iqbal, human beings must take the initiative in this regard, though human initiative alone cannot achieve that goal either.  In other words, human beings must learn to discern the divine tendency within the structure of reality that is pointing towards a particular kind of personality and a particular kind of society; and they must strive, with God, to realize this telos first within their own being and subsequently in the form of a concrete society. Only after achieving a state of peace in their own souls would they be able to achieve it in the world.

Note that Iqbal calls his ideal society the “Kingdom of God,” which literally means theocracy, while also referring to it as a democracy in the same breath! This is either a flagrant contradiction, or a sign that he has transcended the God/human dichotomy. If Iqbal is not contradicting himself, then I believe he is saying the following:  Once humanity actually becomes what it has always meant to be—divine vicegerent—then there will remain no real difference between human will and divine will.


  1. “Apropos article on Theory of Evolution-Do justice to your human form
    by working on spiritual evolution by Swami Dayananda published in The
    Speaking Tree of 11th July 2010. In this connection I want to
    describe some of the views of great Seers and Saints of our time.

    According to His Holiness Maharaj Sahab (1861-1907), the 3rd Spiritual
    Head of Radha Soami Faith, “during satyayuga,……… consequence of
    their greater spirituality and of the high purity of their heart, had
    no difficulty in getting access at times into the astral planes and
    holding communion with the departed spirits.” (Source: Discourses on
    Radhasoami Faith). Greater Spirituality as mentioned above is linked
    to the size of pineal gland. In Satyauga pineal gland was highly
    developed but in Kaliyuga the pineal gland is a rudimentary
    (undeveloped) organ. This is downward evolution of humankind. We
    should ascertain the period taken from highly developed pineal gland
    to undeveloped pineal gland. This will determine the Age of Human
    Existence on this Earth Planet. Other arguments, as I think, will not
    help much. And

    According to His Holiness Sri Kumarswamiji,( the International
    Esoteric & Yoga Centre, Tapovan, Dharwar, India ) “The pineal gland
    is a rudimentary organ in most people but it is evolving though
    slowly. It is possible to quicken its evolution into a condition in
    which it can perform its function of apprehending events
    comprehensively and not piece meal. The full development of this
    organ helps the Yogi to transcend mathematical time, which is only an
    illusion produced by the succession of states of consciousness, as one
    travels through eternal duration. In Yoga Shastra this pineal gland
    is sometimes spoken of as third eye. This third eye is now atrophied,
    simply because the tendency of man has grown downwards and it has got
    immersed in sexual pleasures. Only when man outgrows lust or libido
    and makes it as light as possible, that this third eye will reopen,
    that this pineal gland will flower out in brilliance. Scientists
    opine that the pineal gland is a relic of the third eye, hence it is
    vestigial. But the adepts affirm that it is embryonical and therefore
    it is capable of being developed. The whole process of Piyusa
    (Pineal) Yoga (Shiva Yoga) is intended to bring about the development
    of this dormant pineal gland.”

    Spiritual evolution is possible through the upward evolution of pineal
    gland through the practice of concentration to meditate at the sixth
    chakra which corresponds to optic chiasma.

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