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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Enigma of Sikhism

Sikhism is, in my opinion, one of the aforementioned very notable exceptions. Like you I have sometimes wondered why is has not received more than a passing glance from traditionalists, especially given its unique characteristics. Indeed, the only thing that I have seen written by a traditionalist on the subject is the very brief comment by Schuon provided by Siraji. In this quote, although affirming its validity, Schuon does not identify it as a religion perpetuating a revelation but rather as an esoterism, or esoteric brotherhood. A closer examination would seem to corroborate this, the formal designation Sikh Religion rather than Brotherhood notwithstanding.

Sikhism is based a priori upon the teachings of Guru Nanak, a 15th century Indian sage. According to traditional records, he possessed an awakened faculty of intellectual intuition from an early age and at age twenty-eight undertook a spiritual ascent during which he received a dispensation from the Divine Presence. Immediately prior to this experience, Guru Nanak had entered into a river to bathe and meditate whereupon he disappeared for three days. According to a text called the Puratan Janam-Sakhi,

“At the Divine Command the devotee Nanak was ushered into the Presence. A cup full of Nectar was by Divine Pleasure offered to him. The Voice came: ‘Nanak, this is Amrita (Nectar), the cup of my Name. Drink this, it is offered to thee.’ At this Guru Nanak made obeisance and quaffed the cup of Amrita. The Lord’s grace fell upon him. ‘Nanak, I am ever by thy side. I have showered my blessing on thee. Whoever calls on thee, shall also receive my blessing. Go thou into the world and meditate on the Name, and make mankind also meditate on the Name. Be thou ever unpolluted by the lure of the world. Engage thyself in meditation on the Name, in charity, in self-purification, service, and in remembering thy Lord. I have conferred on thee the blessing of my name. Make the Name alone thy occupation.”

The Divine Presence then asked him to speak the greatness of His Name that had been bestowed upon him, whereupon Guru Nanak uttered the passages later recorded as the Japji Sahib, the first book within the Guru Granth Sahib, and others.

His first act when returning to the world was to give away all of his possessions to the poor. After a day and night of silence, his first teaching was the declaration: There is no Hindu, There is no Muslim. Guru Nanak had entered into the Divine Presence for whom there were no such distinctions, and he began to teach from a perspective situated within this realization. Throughout his life he made many travels always perpetuating a message of the oneness of God, universal equality, and the Naam Marga, a spiritual path based upon the remembrance of God through the repetition of His Name.

Morphologically, Sikhism is based upon the subjective revelation or intellectual intuition of Guru Nanak expressed as song, rather than an objective manifestation of the Logos as man or book. It sometimes expresses cosmological and psychological doctrines using Hindu terminology and clearly enshrines the fundamental Islamic doctrine of Tawhid but does not perpetuate itself within the religious framework of either of these traditions. Guru Nanak was seen as a Guru, rather than a prophet or avatar, and there are no formal rituals other than a rite of induction, their main forms of worship being invocation of the Name and kirtan or recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib. Aside from some formal practices (which are not absolute) concerning attire and dietary prohibitions, Sikhism is based upon the concept of intrinsic morality or the cultivation of the virtues. In principle, these elements differ in nature from those based upon objective revelation, but in practice they have assimilated their respective functions. For the Sikh devotee, Nanak as Guru is both prophet and avatar (of Vishnu), and his inspired utterances the manifestation of the Divine word. Sikhism possesses a lineage of 10 Gurus which bear similarity to the Shi’ite Imams and the Guru Granth Sahib is equally as revered by the Sikh as the Quran is to the Muslim.

In consideration of the absence of a discernable religious framework and in light of the teachings of the traditional school, Sikhism represents perhaps the closest approximation to what has sometimes been hypothesized as the independent practice of the religio perennis, a path based entirely upon the knowledge of the Absolute, intrinsic morality, and the invocation of the Divine Name. According to Schuon, this particular path is something of a final possibility following the advent of Islam as the concluding revelation of this cycle of humanity.

All justification and explanation aside, I also believe that it is impossible to stand within the Golden Temple of Amritsar amidst a gathering of the spiritual descendants of Guru Gobind Singh, listening to the beautiful and inspired recitations of the Guru Granth Sahib and for a single moment doubt that this is something valid and orthodox in the most important sense of the word.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Lovers

The Lovers
will drink wine night and day.
They will drink until they can
tear away the veils of intellect and
melt away the layers of shame and modesty.
When in Love,
body, mind, heart and soul don't even exist.
Become this,
fall in Love,
and you will not be separated again


Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Pillars of Islam

This section will be used to occasionally collect and publish passages related to the pillars of Islam from various sources classical and contemporary.

"The pillars (arkān) of Islām are these:  the double testimony of faith (the shahādatān), the canonical prayer repeated five times a day (the salāt), the fast of Ramadan (siyām, sawm), the tithe (zakāt), the pilgrimage (the hajj); to these is sometimes added the holy war (the jihād), which has a more or less accidental character since it depends on circum­stances; as for the ablution (the wudhū or the ghusl according to circumstances), it is not mentioned separately for it is a condition of the prayer." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

The Two-Fold Testimony

"As we have already seen, the Shahādah indicates in the final analysis — and it is the most universal meaning which interests us here — discernment between the Real and the unreal and then, in the second part, the attaching of the world to God in respect both of its origin and of its end, for to look on things separately from God is already unbelief (nifāq, shirk or kufr, as the case may be)." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

" The two-fold Testimony is the first and the most im­portant of the five “Pillars of the Religion” (arkan ad-Din). The others only have meaning in reference to it ... The esoterism of these practices resides not only in their obvious initiatic symbolism, it resides also in the fact that our practices are esoteric to the extent that we ourselves are, firstly by our understanding of the Doctrine and then by our assimilation of the Method; these two elements being contained, precisely, in the two-fold Testimony." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)

"No God but God: for the mind it is a formulation of truth; for the will it is an injunction with regard to truth; but for the Heart and its intuitive prolongations of certainty it is a single synthesis, a Name of Truth, belonging as such to the highest category of Divine Names ... Analogously, the essential meaning of the Shahadah is veiled by its outer meanings. One such veil ... is the meaning 'none is worshipable but God' ... To understand this deepest meaning it is necessary to bear in mind that each of the Names of the Divine Essence comprises in Itself, like Allah, the totality of Names and does not merely denote a particular Divine Aspect. The Names of the Essence are thus in a sense interchangeable with Allah, and one such name is al-Haqq, Truth, Reality. We can just as well say that there is no truth but the Truth, no reality but the Reality as that there is no god but God. The meaning of all these is identical ... The doctrine which is based on that conclusion is termed 'Oneness of Being,' for Reality is that which is, as opposed to that which is not; and if God alone is Real, God alone is, and there is no being but His Being." (Martin Lings, What is Sufism?, pp. 63-65)

"So far only the first part of the Shahadah has been considered. But this first Pillar of Islam is two-fold. The testifier must testify also that Muhammad is the Messenger of God - Muhammadan Rasulu 'Llah. The 'traveller' must learn to see in this also an epitome of the spiritual path, of the wave that can take him to the end of the journey. Both testifications end alike. But whereas la ilaha illa 'Llah begins with a negative, which signifies the turning of one's back on the world, Muhammadun Rasulu 'Llah begins with the state of human perfection as starting point for the realisation of all that lies beyond." (Martin Lings, What is Sufism?, pp. 75-76)

Canonical Prayer

"The prayer integrates man into the rhythm of universal adoration and — through the ritual orientation of the prayer towards the Kaaba — into its centripetal order; the ablution preceding the prayer virtually brings man back to the primordial state and in a certain manner to pure Being." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

"Prayer marks the submission of Manifestation to the Principle ... Amongst the 'Pillars of the Religion,' that which the Prayer has in particular is that it has a precise form and comprises bodily positions which, being symbols, neces­sarily have meanings belonging to esoterism; but these meanings are simply explanatory, they do not enter con­sciously and operatively into the accomplishment of the rite, which only requires a sincere awareness of the for­mulas and a pious intention regarding the movements. The reason for the existence of the Canonical Prayer lies in the fact that man always remains an individual inter­locutor before God and that he does not have to be any­thing else. When God wills that we speak to Him, He does not accept from us a metaphysical meditation. As re­gards the meaning of the movements of the Prayer, all that need be said here is that the vertical positions express our dignity as free and theomorphic vicar (khalifah), and that the prostrations on the contrary manifest our small­ness as servant” (‘abd) and as dependant and limited crea­ture; man must be aware of the two sides of his being, made as he is of clay and spirit." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)

"The second pillar of Islam ... is the ritual prayer together with the ablution which is an inseparable part of it ... the water must be considered as flowing into this finite world from the next; and according to the Qur'an, water is one of the symbols of Mercy (which includes purification), and of Life ... A drop of water as well as a lake symbolises the Infinite Beatitude into which Mercy reintegrates; and the water used in the ablution, when consecrated by the aspiration to return, is above all a vehicle of reintegration or, from another angle, of liberation, for water is likewise a symbol of the Living Substance of Reality set free from the ice of finite forms ... The same End, looked at from a different point of view is 'enacted' in the ritual prayer in which each cycle of movements leads to a prostration followed by a sitting posture. The Sufis interpret these in the light of the Quranic verse Everyone therein (in the worlds of creation) passeth away; and there remaineth the Face of thy Lord in Its Majesty and Bounty. The passing away corresponds to the prostration, and the remaining to the seatedness which is the most compact and stable posture of the whole prayer." (Martin Lings, What is Sufism?, pp. 77-78)

The Fast of Ramadan

"The fast cuts man off from the continual and devouring flux of carnal life, introducing into our flesh a kind of death and purification ..." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam

"... the Fast is detachment with regard to desires thus with regard to the ego ..." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)


"... the alms vanquish egoism and avarice and actualize the solidarity of all creatures, for alms are a fasting of the soul, even as the fast proper is an almsgiving of the body." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

"... the Almsgiving is detachment with regard to things, thus with regard to the world ..." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)

The Pilgrimage to Mecca

"The pilgrimage is a prefiguration of the inward journey towards the kaaba of the heart and purifies the community, just as the circulation of the blood, passing through the heart, purifies the body ..." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

"... the Pilgrimage, finally, is the return to the Center, to the Heart: to the Self." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)

"... this voluntary rite, which the vast majority of Muslims are never able to perform, remains none the less a secret dimension of Islam, hidden from all those who have not actually explored it for themselves; and this dimension is the link between the present moment and the past. It is by no means only in virtue of the Pilgrimage that Islam is named 'the religion of Abraham' and 'the primordial religion'; but the Pilgrimage is an eloquent demonstration of what these names imply, for it is not only a journey in space to the center towards which one has always turned one's face in prayer, but also a journey in time far back beyond the missions of Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. " (Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din, Pilgrimage to Mecca)

The Holy War

"... the holy war is — always from the point of view adopted here — an external and collective manifestation of discernment between truth and error; it is like the centrifugal and negative complement of the pilgrimage — complement, not opposite, because it remains attached to the center and is positive through its religious content." (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam)

"A sixth pillar is sometimes added, the Holy War: this is the fight against the profane soul by means of the spiritual weapon; it is therefore not the Holy War that is outward and “lesser” (asghar), but the Holy War that is inward and “greater” (akbar), according to a hadith. The Islamic initiation is in fact a pact with God with a view to this “greater” Holy War; the battle is fought by means of the Dhikr and on the basis of Faqr, inward Poverty; whence the name of faqir given to the initiate." (Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence)