Sunday, April 29, 2018

Evolution of the Bayah in Shadhili-Maryami Sufism

"And we sent thee not save as a Mercy to the worlds." (Quran 21:107)
"Sayyidna Muhammad (as) ... bequeathed to his Community a living element of his Person, and he did so by his Hand, during the two meetings at 'Aqabah; and in particular with regard to 'Ali, Abu Bakr, Salman, and Anas." (Shaykh Isa, Text 750)
Concerning the topic of initiation proper, it seems that there are three layers of interpretation that have come down to us as a superimposition upon the primitive practice of bayah as it was administered in the Darqawiyyah-Alawiyyah tradition.

As related to me by a muqaddam of the Alawiyyah-Habibiyyah order, bayah has our conventional meaning of a pact made with God in emulation of the pact made with the Prophet - may peace and blessings be upon him. The transmission of the Tariqah proper, however, coincided with the transmission of the Wird. To receive the Tariqah traditionally meant to receive the Wird. The use of the Unique Name, as they call it, historically belonged to the domain of ithn, not to that of initiation. We seem to do things a little backward by comparison, downplaying the significance of the Wird, and exalting the centrality of the Divine Name in conjunction with bayah.

I believe that this is due in large part to the three interrelated layers of interpretation arising from the evolution of ideas introduced by Guenon and successively reinterpreted by Shaykh Isa and Shaykh Hossein, perhaps also by a conscious decision made by Shaykh Isa. 

From Guenon come the ideas of traditional filiation and initiatic transmission. For Guenon, traditional filiation originally meant ritual fidelity and participation in a legally chartered Masonic or quasi-Masonic lodge but the idea is also conformable to the possession of a silsilah and the preservation of the rite and formulae of the bayah. He taught that by following the prescribed rules, the ritual may serve as the vehicle of an indeterminate spiritual influence, what I interpret as essentially a magical or supernatural power or what Greg Goode calls EBT or energy-based transmission.

Shaykh Isa then developed these ideas but what was originally conceived as as a kind of supernatural power now became an equally indeterminate "special grace" that possesses a clearly defined function, to bridge the disjunction between the empirical ego and the primordial intellect.

Once again, Shaykh Hossein took up these ideas, this time applying to them a Shi'ite definition and interpretation. Under Nasr, initiatic transmission is conformable to the transmission of sanctity and authority (wilayah/walayah) throughout the lineage of the Imams.

I could be wrong, but I don't believe that the original practice of initiation into Sufism carried all of these quasi-magical and Shi'ite associations, all transmission taking place by virtue of the Wird itself which in conjunction with the bayah served as a concrete link to the silsilah, as when Shaykh Darqawi stated, "On the night of the day I met the Shaykh and took the wird from him" - each name of the silsilah like a bead upon the tasbih.

This is something that you may wish to investigate in response to those who are fixated on the idea of graces emanating from the Shaykh as a central fixture of Sufi spirituality.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Mystery of the Tarot

I think that the symbols of the Tarot undeniably transmit esoteric information concealed within the guise of a gambling and fortune-telling game. The question boils down to the consideration of who put them there and why? We only know with certainty who is responsible, that is, the artists and engravers - master craftsman and their apprentices - who created the oldest packs. It was from the symbolism included in those original designs that the heritage of the Tarot took on a life of its own. We also know that virtually all traditional craft guilds were associated with initiation rites that transmitted the knowledge of the craft and its moral and spiritual significance. For all traditional artisans, the work of a craft whatever it may be - everything from architecture to metalurgy to weaving - had a spiritual and cosmological significance that transformed it into an act of prayer and worship which also contains an alchemical dimension whereby the transformation and perfection of the physical material through art simultaneously transformed and perfected the soul of the artist. Now that the heritage of traditional crafts has largely been supplanted by soulless automation, we can safely say that the Tarot is now relegated to the domain of folklore. People reproduce and recreate the established images without the requisite mastery to produce something of comparable depth and vitality and generally also without real knowledge of the meaning of or significant connection to the universal content of the symbols.

I think that the main problem of the occultists is that, ironically, they reduce the profundity of the symbols to a sterile and dogmatic interpretation based upon an identified system (the Western Qabalah) that they consider definitive. Heinrich Zimmer's criticism of the scholarly interpreters of myth diagnoses the problem very well when he writes that,

"The moment we abandon the dilettante attitude toward the images of folklore and myth and begin to feel certain about their proper interpretation (as professional comprehenders, handling the tool of an infallible method), we deprive ourselves of the quickening contact, the demonic and inspiring assault that is the effect of their intrinsic virtue. We forfeit our proper humility and open-mindedness before the unknown, and refuse to be instructed - refuse to be shown what has never quite been told to us or anybody else. And we attempt, instead, to classify the contents of the dark message under heads and categories already known. This prevents the emergence of any new meaning or fresh understanding."

Crowley is doubly problematic because he reformulated the symbolism in service of his private revelations of Thelema. The artist was skilled and imaginative but the directions were horribly flawed.

It may very well be that there is no final or definitive interpretation or explanation of the mystery of the Tarot, but that's okay, and it may actually be a big part of the whole "point."
Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.