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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Deliverance in the Kali Yuga

 The Kalki Avatar

The most diverse traditions agree that the best support for concentration and the best means to obtain Deliverance at the end of the Kali-Yuga is the invocation of a revealed divine Name, one that is destined by the Revelation itself for japa. Consequently, when I speak of 'concentration on the Real', I am thinking of japa.

- Frithjof Schuon, A Sufi Master

In the Kaliyuga the path of devotion prescribed by Narada is best ... According to Narada the devotee should sing the name and glories of God.

- Sri Ramakrishna, A Hindu Master

In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, only the Naam, the Name of the Lord, shall be of any real use to you.

- Sri Guru Granth Sahib

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.

- The Book of Joel 2:31-32

That which is obtained by meditation in the age of Krita, by sacrifice in the age of Treta, by devotion in the age of Dwapara, is obtained in the Kali age by celebrating Keshava (Vishnu). The repetition of His Name, Oh Maitreya, is for faults the equivalent of fire for metals. Water suffices to put out fire, the sunrise to disperse the darkness - in the Kali age the repetition of the Name of Hari (Vishnu) suffices to destroy all errors.

- Vishnu-Dharma-Uttara

In the present age, which belongs to the fourth half-millennium after Buddha, what we have to do is to repent of our transgressions, cultivate the virtues and the Name of Buddha. Is it not said that to think of the Buddha Amitabha and to pronounce His Name purifies us of all transgressions committed by us in all our lives during eighty thousand million kalpas? The faithful one (the initiated) must utter without interruption the Name of Buddha with one sole thought, leaving no room in his mind for anything else, and he is then sure to be re-born in the presence of Buddha.

-Tao-Ch'o, a Chinese Master

Because beings endowed with sensible faculties meet many obstacles in their road, and the world in which they live is full of subtle temptations: because (in the 'present age' or 'latter days', and above all as the end of this epoch is approached) their thoughts are too perplexed, their intelligence too clumsy and their minds too distraught . . . Taking pity on them, Buddha counsels them to concentrate on the recitation of His Name, for when it is practised without interruption the faithful one is certain to be re-born in the Land of Amida

- Shan-Tao, a Chinese Master

Conversion and Heredity

Notwithstanding the emergence within the last century of a distinctive western manifestation of Islam, the tensions you describe of moving from a western and Christian mentality and sensibilities to eastern and Islamic ones are not uncommon. One of the more flagrant contradictions in this transition that you have dealt with at great length is the phenomenon of religious law, reflected particularly in the worldliness of the Prophet, a concept completely foreign to the Christian west and the other-worldliness of Jesus. Such foreignness is undoubtedly at root of the western fear of Shari'a and the common misconception of Islam as predominantly juridical.

You state that many converts do not feel this tension, and you may be correct about this, but only in the sense that most of those who do convert to Islam are precisely those who have overcome this inner tension. In the context of this forum for example, we frequently hear from serious inquirers who are moving from a state of unbelief or otherwise simply lack of commitment who are desirous of dedicating themselves to one of many valid traditional possibilities. A common observation is that for a Westerner, the natural starting place is Christianity due to hereditary and geographical considerations. For those influenced by the traditional school and its concomitant emphasis upon universality and esoterism, the decision usually rests contrarily upon the consideration of spiritual expediency. In this case, the seeker will generally choose to follow that tradition in which esoteric instruction is most accessible, the contingent cultural and formal elements being overshadowed by formless metaphysical truth.

Although, the context is different than your situation, you may be able to identify with some of Frithjof Schuon's thoughts concerning heredity from his instructional text, "Two Unequal Heredities." (http://bit.ly/ZfXia0)

He wrote, "When a seeker plans to pass from one religious form to another, and this in view of the religio perennis and not through conversion, it can happen that he comes up against his religious heredity—whether this be conceptual or psychic—due to the fact that his forefathers have practiced that religion over the centuries; and the seeker will be tempted to believe that this heredity is insurmountable, thus that it has about it something absolute; while in reality it is relative by the fact that there is, in the depths of the soul, another heredity which is absolute because it is primordial and which is, precisely, the religio perennis. This deep-seated heredity is like the remembrance of the lost Paradise, and it can erupt in the soul by a kind of providential atavism; we have in mind here men who, while having behind them generations of religious believers impregnated with a given religious formalism, nevertheless benefit personally from the primordial heredity."

Esoteric Affiliation and Conversion

It is my understanding that affiliation with an esoteric organization has less to do with belonging to a group, although this too is important, than it does with attaching oneself to a spiritual master who can provide guidance and direction. It is sometimes the case that one may convert to another religion out of spiritual expedience, where such guidance and direction is more readily accessible, even while retaining a subjective view of the superiority of one's tradition of origin.

Concerning the validity of one's daily prayers in Islam, these are fundamentally prayers to God, not demonstrations of one's love of the Islamic form. However, because the Islamic form proceeds from the transmission and example of the Prophet Muhammad - May peace and blessings be upon him - I believe that such a love will arise inevitably through prolonged contact or devotion to a spiritual master or shaykh. In Islam there is a saying that "One cannot love God unless God loves him first, and God loves those who love His Prophet." Within the heritage of Islamic spirituality it is the awliya, the great saints or "friends of God" who are the closest in character to the example of the Prophet such that the love of one naturally proceeds or issues from the love of the other. I have heard that historically, the example of these great men and women has been a more powerful impetus toward conversion to Islam, and therefore the love of the Islamic form, than any other human phenomenon.

The Quest for Tradition


Greetings of Peace and thank you for taking the time to introduce yourself to the forum. There have been a number of people participating on our forums over the years coming from a situation similar to yours. Some of them, by the grace of God and the support of fellow seekers, have been able to enter into a living orthodox Tradition and secure peace of mind by doing so. I am of the opinion that other readers may also benefit from participating vicariously in such a heartfelt personal quest as well as by sharing the personal testimonials of their respective journeys.

You may find Marco Pallis' Some Thoughts on Soliciting and Imparting Spiritual Counsel very helpful at the outset of your inquiry, answering some of the basic questions that you may have, while anticipating others.

Perhaps one of the most useful preliminary observations from that article for someone looking to enter a tradition is the realistic assessment that there are primarily three traditions that are most accessible to the contemporary westerner: Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

***

I am happy to hear that you found the article encouraging and also to see that you are deeply thinking about some of the issues raised by it in light of your understanding of Guenon's teachings. You have also brought to the forefront an issue that I anticipated and responded to but left out of my original reply.

The short answer is that within most Traditions, there is no rigid and exclusive demarcation between the exoteric and esoteric domains, even in the case of organized sufism. The foundations of doctrine, practice, and virtue issue from the same source of revelation such that the difference between the two domains lies primarily in the degree of interiority and intellectual and existential participation. To attempt to pursue "esoteric affiliation" outside the context of the formal aspects of the Revelation is to make the error of the occultists. Typically what happens is that they end up trying to create their own personal religious and doctrinal systems while experimenting haphazardly with various forms of meditation and invocation. "It is not piety that you should come to houses by their rear," states the Quran, "but piety is he who is reverent and comes into houses by their doors. So reverence God, that haply you may prosper." (2:189)

***

This is a very common argument against the adherence to religion that I have encountered numerous times in my correspondence and most recently in my discussions with non-believers at my place of business. It is rooted in the appraisal of religion based upon the actions and teachings of those who are least qualified to represent it (i.e. those who re-interpret traditional doctrines to reflect their adherence to modern ideologies). A greater amount of thought on the matter quickly reveals the fact that such an appraisal is not based upon the consideration of the religious tradition itself (including the revelation from which it emerges, the pattern of human perfection demonstrated in the being of its revealer, and canonical rites and means of worship) nor upon those who are most qualified to represent it such as the great prophets, sages, and saints of history, or their living counterparts today. It may be that a given sermon, homily, or khutbah may be displeasing to one's own discernment, but it is very disempowering to close oneself off to the blessings of heaven due to another person's individual limitations and prejudices.

***

I will try my best to tread lightly on these topics in light of your firmly held beliefs as I do not wish to be offensive or presume that anyone (yourself included) must hold to the same opinions that I do. Perhaps we can simply view the exchange as a shared inquiry. For myself, I share a similar enthusiasm for these subjects, and believe that there are few if any other topics of discussion as important as they are.

To back up a bit and address some of the personal questions that you have previously directed toward me, in my late teens and early twenties, as a result of my extensive study of occult literature, I had become convinced that initiation through affiliation with secret or semi-secret esoteric organizations was the goal of the spiritual life and the natural aspiration of any person of reasonable intelligence. I affiliated myself with a number of organizations at that time -Theosophist, Rosicrucian, Hermetic, Qabalist, Quasi-Masonic, etc and found in each instance a certain degree of elitism. Their initiates were passed through elaborate hierarchical ceremonies indicating the stages of their spiritual advancement and they were introduced piecemeal to various collections of occult doctrine accordingly. They were taught to control the spirits of the elements, the intelligences of the planets, and participate as co-creators with the gods by invoking them and assuming their imaginal forms. Each organization viewed itself as a repository of ancient wisdom, of "things kept secret from the foundation of the world" and looked upon religious believers as passive servants to a corrupt ecclesiastical authority. The crowning achievement of the highest ranking initiates was typically a vision or communication written down as a document or book and viewed as a kind of personal revelation that may subsequently be shared with the organization and interpreted according to the prevailing hermeneutical methodology, typically mathematical and astrological.

Now, most people who adhere to these organizations believe firmly in both their authenticity as well as the privileged status that is afforded to them by virtue of their initiation. It was common for people to be initiated into multiple organizations, but for the most part the path of initiation was viewed as a closed system and the doctrines espoused by the organization as absolute truth.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, I continued to investigate outside of these systems and encountered among other things the original sources from which they borrowed the symbols, doctrines, rituals, and techniques. For the most part these consisted of orthodox and traditional doctrines, rites, and methods removed from their original context and combined together according to fabricated rules and reinterpreted according to popular ideologies.

My original investigations led me to the conclusion that two things were absent from these organizations, God and deified men. There was a strong preoccupation with one's own spiritual advancement that overshadowed the consideration of humble submission to God's Will. Also, although initiates were unanimously preoccupied with mastering and controlling cosmic forces and spiritual intelligences, there was no comparable indication of self-control or self-mastery. In short, there were no saints of occultism.

Later, as I became more focused on orthodox religion and like many others, the choice of religion, came the consideration of the centrality of Revelation. According to my present understanding, Revelation (what you referred to as the source of power in religion) is an eruption of the Divine within the domain of the human. It is when God, in his quality of Infinitude, limits Himself by communicating with humanity in a way that is perceptible to ordinary human experience and awareness. When such a tremendous phenomenon occurs, it changes the order and organization of the entire world regardless of the civilization within which it originally occurred.

The late Martin Lings - May God be Pleased with Him - communicated what I believe is one of the most beautiful and instructive metaphors in illustration of this phenomenon which I originally encountered at that juncture. He wrote,

"From time to time a Revelation 'flows' like a great tidal wave from the Ocean of Infinitude to the shores of our finite world."

According to Lings, the formal religion consists of that portion of the wave which conforms to the particular ethnic receptivities and aptitudes of that sector of humanity within which it was revealed and as such is the exclusive province of the vast majority of the faithful.

Likewise, Esoterism, according to Lings, "is the vocation and the discipline and the science of plunging into the ebb of one of these waves and being drawn back with it to its Eternal and Infinite Source."

Although the vocation or calling of the esoterist is to the ebbing wave, Lings also explains that part of the discipline of the esoterist consists in conforming precisely to the formal elements of the aforementioned receptivities and aptitudes for the following reason. Although the center of consciousness - the heart or Supreme Self - has the capability of being set free and ebbing with the wave, the body and soul of man require a vehicle furnished by the religious form to carry them through human existence to the shores of death.

As far as my own path is concerned, I studied many ways both orthodox and heterodox before encountering teachers such as Lings from whom I originally learned about and came to identify with the religion of Islam and its spiritual heritage of Sufism.

***

There are a number of orthodox turuq within the Islamic Tradition, each of which represents a unique but similar branch of the same initiatic chain reaching back to the Prophet Muhammad - May Peace and Blessings be Upon Him. It would be advantageous to continue with the theoretical activity at least briefly at the outset in order to acquaint yourself with the basic perspectives and practices of Sufism and identify some of the different turuq. There are a number of good books and some websites which can assist with this activity and I can suggest some if you are interested.

Practically, you may then wish to determine which turuq have a center in your area and make contact with one of them. This can be as simple as sending an e-mail or calling to speak with a representative. Some of the larger turuq, such as the Naqshbandi and Mevlevi, have a center in many if not most major metropolitan areas and include some activities that are open to the public. If there is a specific tariqah that you have become interested in but are unsure of whether or not they are represented in your area, you can also inquire about local activity and representation.

***

Most participants at a local mosque, Sunni or Shia (at least within my experience within the United States) are not likely to be able assist you with this inquiry. For the vast majority of Muslims here, Islamic spirituality is encapsulated within the canonical prayer, personal petitionary prayers, and the concrete moral teachings of the Quran and Sunnah.

***

I am glad that you brought this up as it touches upon an important point that I intimated previously, specifically that in practice there is not as rigid a demarcation between the exoteric and esoteric domains as there is in within the theoretical exposition of these concepts. Comments such as the following made by Guenon in Perspectives on Initiation may easily be lost sight of in the grander scope of his teachings. He wrote, "Now, for the sake of convenience we could divide traditional organizations into the 'exoteric' and the 'esoteric', although these two terms understood in their most precise sense cannot be applied with equal exactitude." (emphasis mine) Elsewhere he states in the same book that "... esoterism has more direct links with religion than with anything else in the exterior order by reason of the traditional character common to both [i.e. their emergence from Revelation]; and as noted previously, esoterism can in certain cases even assume a base and support in a specific religious form." In my experience, this latter situation is virtually always the case, aside from certain notable exceptions such as the Vedanta which in any case contains a movement away from exoteric rites rather than an a apriori absence of an exoteric framework.

Although the Islamic Tradition contains perhaps the clearest demarcation of these domains, Islamic esoterism also functions within the framework of exoteric Islam and possesses as its foundation the symbols furnished by the revelation and the law and rites contained within the fundamental pillars of the religion. To this are complemented certain supererogatory rites and a metaphysical doctrine which is the inward analogue to the aforementioned symbolism.

To respond to your friend's information, Sufism may be seen as a complementary path practiced within the foundation of the rites that he mentioned but which has at its heart an interiorizing grace transmitted from the origins of the revelation and supported by traditional esoteric rites and doctrines. You may wish to read through Guenon's article on Haqiqa and Sharia in Islam for a better explanation of what this entails.

The Restoration of Faith and Prayer

You have made some very significant disclosures about your present situation, interests, and motivations. Many of us know firsthand how challenging it can be to have one's faith shaken, how difficult it is to try to gain an orientation in life as an agnostic, or otherwise to try to understand one's place in the world without divine guidance.

Among the aims of the teachings of the traditional school are the restoration of faith and the restitution of the saving barque of prayer. It is very common that the simple but entirely adequate faith inherited from one's parents is incapable of withstanding the tenaciousness of the ego fortified by modern ideologies born from the academy, the microscope and telescope, and the examination room. This is not to say that modern modes and means to knowledge are inherently evil or without tangible benefit, but simply that they are fundamentally inadequate to fully meet the needs of the human soul, to convey an accurate assessment of man's place in the world, or to communicate the knowledge of our ultimate destination at the end of our sojourn on earth.

The traditional authorities combat these limited modes of knowing by restating and in some cases restoring the metaphysical teachings of religion and tradition in a manner that is meaningful and accessible to contemporary men and women who have been influenced by these ideologies and their attendant rational disequilibrium. To quote Frithjof Schuon writing in his book Understanding Islam,

"This book [and indeed most of the books of the traditional school] is intended primarily for Western readers given the language in which it is written and the nature of its dialectic, but there are doubtless some Orientals, of Western formation — men who have perhaps lost sight of the solid grounds for faith in God and Tradition — who equally may be able to profit from it and in any case to understand that Tradition is not a childish and outmoded mythology but a science that is terribly real."

Platonism, Hermetism, and Egyption Philosophical Theology, are all very interesting and valuable subjects. It was through a powerful encounter with Plato and Hermes (and a few others), for example, that I first learned to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in religious and psuedoreligious teachings. If you are interested in obtaining assistance with your stated dilemmas, including the desire for orientation and a deeply rooted conflict related to your understanding of exclusivity and universality in religion, you may find the teachings of the traditional school to be of inestimable value.

Dogmatism and the Traditional School

Not everyone has the capacity to drink directly from the spring of intellectual intuition as it wells up within the depths of the heart and I do not think that anyone should be chastised for delighting in the reproduction of passages of great profundity and beauty. Nevertheless, I do think that I know where your perspective is coming from. Most schools of thought pass through a period of initial creative impetus to one of reflection and systematization and the traditional school appears to be no exception. If there is any opportunity for true originality, perhaps it belongs most appropriately neither to the dilettante nor the codifier, but solely to the gnostic himself who is not of necessity confined within the boundaries and limitations of academic discourse, even if he or she happens to be a scholar.

I am reminded of a passage that I recently encountered in the Fahrasa of Ibn Ajiba. While detailing some of the spiritual charisms to which he bore witness, he recounted the following episode:

"Another time when I had gone to the mosque, also during the Night of Destiny, I remained to make the invocation after the dawn prayer and suddenly saw a man walking between the columns saying: "la ilaha illa llah; the market is finished!" I retorted: "There is still the Living One who does not die!" He then disappeared from my sight and replied: "What you say is true!" Then he added: "I composed a book in which I wrote, 'so and so said,' 'so and so said'; and did I get results?" Then he continued: "If you want to write, let it come from you!" I understood that he was referring to a work that I was writing in which I was repeating lots of things the ancient authors had said; he was bringing my attention to the fact that I should use my own faculties of thought to take out what was inside me."

***

The tendency to supply a collection of quotations in lieu of didactic exposition is for me one of the most striking characteristics of most classical and some contemporary Sufi manuals which also served as something of a challenge when I was not yet accustomed to it. I think that it may have been influenced by the precedents set by the codifiers of the Hadith with their meticulous documentation of the chains of narration as well as the tendencies toward self-effacement and reverence for tradition that you identified. Ibn Ajiba, who lived much closer to our era, may have been guided in his inspiration to recognize that, in the words of Frithjof Schuon, "what is needed in our time, and indeed in every age remote from the origins of Revelation, is to provide some people with keys fashioned afresh — keys no better than the old ones but merely more elaborated — in order to help them rediscover the truths written in an eternal script in the very substance of man's spirit."

***

What I had in mind concerning the boundaries and limitations of academia, quite irrespective of the current popular ideologies in circulation, are the rules of expression and exposition. Perhaps first and foremost of these is the rejection of authoritative expression in the absence of adequate documentation. This precludes the possibility of transmitting theoretical gnosis in this context, intellectual intuition, the mundus imaginalis, or the Prophet Idris for example, not being valid scholarly references.

Historically, it seems, most writings that we consider traditional did not ascribe to these types of self-imposed formal limitations. Nevertheless, not only do I agree with you that this does not make academic writing inherently bad by any means, I would also point out that there are many notable exceptions, writings presented according to the rules of western scholarship, but which possess a greater significance that may easily be overlooked because of this.

An excellent example of this is William Chittick's Ibn Arabi: Heir to the Prophets. On the surface, it appears to be simply another contemporary study of Ibn Arabi but upon further examination it proves to be not merely an academic work but a veritable contemporary Akbarian treatise, comparable to Abd al-Karim al-Jili's Universal Man, and rightly belonging to that heritage. There is even a noticeable tension in the work between the author's own inspired elocutions which frequently take center stage as it were, and the desire to maintain within the boundaries of scholarly acceptability by frequently mentioning Ibn Arabi's name, summarizing his perspective, or providing the occasional citation.