The Alchemy of Happiness

The Muslim philosopher and sage, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), begins his short book, The Alchemy of Happiness, with the words: ‘Know, O beloved, that humankind was not created in jest or at random, but marvellously made and for some great end.’ The book shows how this goal transcends the limitations of our life in the world, and is the result of an inner transformation, based on love of the deeper reality at the heart of all experience.

Al-Ghazali himself had discovered the delights, as well as the drawbacks, of name and fame. Through his learning and eloquence, he gained academic pre-eminence in Baghdad, itself pre-eminent as the cultural centre of Islam in the eleventh century. But dissatisfaction, and an awareness of higher goals and purer forms of activity, overpowered him, and, after a break-down, he withdrew completely from professional and family life, journeyed incognito to other centres of wisdom, and, through meditation and self-discipline, deepened his understanding of the path and way of practice of the Sufis. This led to the composition of his most comprehensive and influential book, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. The Alchemy of Happiness was intended to be a shorter presentation of the same teachings.

Al-Ghazali’s writings are characterised by moderation and reasonableness, yet indicate a glory that transcends the normal powers of the mind. His chapters are clearly structured, and he tells us that The Alchemy of Happiness will focus on four inter-related topics:

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This article is from the Winter 2023 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.