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.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Message to a Mexican Seeker

I would like to reiterate two things concerning my previous remarks from earlier posts: First, I have a genuine interest in learning more about the indigenous traditions of Mexico which also constitute my own heritage. Whereas Islam as an all embracing way of life constitutes the culture that I have chosen and adopted for myself, my native heritage is that of Mexico. I refrain from considering the present confusion that is American life an authentic or in any way traditional culture or civilization.

Secondly, I recognize the need for authentic sources of information and alternately instruction by a qualified representative of traditional Mexico. To adequately embody within yourself this Tradition, you will ultimately need to seek out the latter. Even with the possession of genuine knowledge of traditional forms you will still need the living link to endow them with spiritual intelligence and efficacy. As the scripture says, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." At the same time, you will need to develop the capacity to determine who is authenitic and who is a charlatan and for that you will need knowledge, which returns us to the pursuit of authentic information.

Individuals such as Hunbatz Men, Samael Aun Weor, and Carlos Castaneda are expositors of what is essentially occult or new age philosophy. The latter has its origins in the former which in turn is rooted in the Rosicrucian Movement of the 17th and 18th centuries and the Theosophical Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. These movements are very similar in nature as can be gleaned from a brief albeit superficial description. Rosicrucianism has its origin in the legend of a mysterious brotherhood of western adepts who possess universal learning and secret knowledge and its aspirants were primarily concerned with the pursuit of alchemy, astrology, and pseudo-qabalistic philosophy. Theosophism has its origin in the legend of a mysterious brotherhood of eastern adepts who possess universal learning and secret knowledge and its aspirants were primarily concerned with the pursuit of spiritualism, psychic powers, and pseudo-oriental philosophy.

These two movements can be credited with the origin of much of the teachings heralded as ‘spiritual’ by those who do not follow any of the great orthodox religions. This includes everything associated with the occult and ‘new age’. Whereas new age philosophies may find themselves without attachment to any particular formal system in order to perpetuate their teachings, instead relying on sentiment and active imagination alone, occult philosophies are distinctive in this regard. Respecting the general aversion to orthodoxy, they will instead attempt to revive or re-create the lost religions of the past, borrowing from Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Norse, and other symbol and ritual systems that have long since fallen out of use and only remain fragmentary and partially understood if at all. The use of such systems has two benefits for those who would exploit them. First, they appeal to our sense of the romantic and fantastic and cater to a nostalgia of the past. Second, they have fallen into disuse and are what we might call “dead traditions” having no remaining link to their origins. As such they can be endowed with wholly modern interpretations and applied to fabricated philosophical systems without anyone being the wiser excepting a small minority of critical specialists and scholars who would not have any interest in following the latest occult movements in any case.

Just as Britain is ripe with those who would attempt to re-create the Celtic and British traditions of their ancestors making use of occult doctrines and methods, so it appears that there are those who would do the same for the dead civilizations of the Maya, Tolteca, and Azteca. Such modern aberrations as these are guaranteed a sizable following within Mexican culture due to the increasing dissatisfaction with Roman Catholicism, the desire to “return to one’s origins”, the romance of the past, and perhaps most importantly the simple lack of knowledge of the spiritual life and all encompassing “tradition” of our noble ancestors.

Nevertheless, my comments are not intended to be discouraging as I do believe that elements of this tradition survive among the numerous tribes scattered throughout Mexico. Of course, I do not believe that it is desirable or even necessarily possible to revive the ancient tradition in all of its particulars. This has been rendered incapable by the advent of modernism as an ideology, the all-pervasiveness of western society, and the mode and manner of modern living and technology. Much that was once manifest outwardly will now have to be carried inwardly as a condition of the heart and as a state of being.

In this I think that we may learn much from the tribes of the Native Americans living within the United States who are perhaps the closest both geographically and culturally to the Native Mexicans. They are a people who were forced off of their land (or we might say introduced to the western ideas of land-ownership), invaded by the perversions of modern culture, and as a result had their traditional lifestyles completely disrupted. Despite these terrible calamities that they have been subjected to, the spirit of the Red Indian persists into our modern day and the tradition is perpetuated, not in its totality, but in its essentiality.

The most sacred animal, the eagle (in all of its various species), is on the restricted species list and feathers which are an essential element of all regalia, are subject to peculiar federal restrictions. The buffalo, whose existence and migrations the life of the tribe was mysteriously intertwined and dependent upon, no longer roam the plains. Traditional crafts once common are now a sacred trust among a few elite craftsman who have devoted themselves to developing and perpetuating them. The war dance is done for competition instead of victory, and the experiences of nobility and valiance in warfare no longer provide a rite of passage to the virtues of manhood. Evidently, life can never be the same as it once was.

Thomas Yellowtail, the late Crow Medicine Man and Sun Dance chief describes these and similar examples relating to the present and former conditions of the Native Americans. Ultimately, he concludes that what remains of their tradition is adequate to the needs of contemporary man.

“Modern Indians care little for spiritual things and traditional ways,” he once stated, “so there are few traditional people remaining with real medicine or understanding. Modern civilization has no understanding of sacred matters. Everything is backwards. This makes it even more important that young people follow what is left today. Even though many of the sacred ways are no longer with us, what we have left is enough for anyone, and if it is followed it will lead as far as the person can go. The four rites that we have left form the center of the religion: the sweat lodge for purification; the vision quest for the spiritual retreat; the daily prayer with the offering of tobacco smoke; and the Sun Dance itself. With all this, any sincere person can realize his inner spiritual center.”

Three years after the collapse of the Aztecs in 1524, a group of surviving Nahuatl wise men undertook to formulate a valiant defense of the validity and authenticity of their tradition against twelve friars in Tenochtitlan. Included among records of this marvelous and eloquently expressed discussion is a succinct summary of the essential elements of their religion. They stated, “We know on Whom life is dependent; on Whom the perpetuation of the race depends; by Whom begetting is determined; by Whom growth is made possible; how it is that one must invoke; how it is that one must pray.” If the traditions of Mexico are to thrive in our modern age then our people must restore primacy to the One on Whom life depends and learn once again how it is that one must invoke and how it is that one must pray. Perhaps most important is the realization that these methods cannot be created or fashioned by any effort of human will. Rather, they are given to man by God as a sacred trust and must likewise be received from his vicegerents on earth.

Until this qualification is fulfilled, you and others like you can pray for guidance and look to those authentic records that remain. I have not delved deeply enough into the subject to provide you with comprehensive references, but I have always been one to think that a few ideas well-learned and understood as fully as possible are much better than an enourmous quantity of details. The book Native Meso-American Spirituality by Miguel Leon-Portilla contains a representative selection of authentic religious texts of ancient Mexico and seems like an adequate foundation to begin our studies.

I offer these words as a constructive and sympathetic counterpart to the numerous criticisms that I have already provided.

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