[The following is my portion of a recent correspondence with a Bloomington faqir in response to The Confusing Case of Frithjof Schuon blog post. It is included here to demonstrate various refinements and clarifications to my recent reflections. I have rigorously excluded all elements of my interlocutor's messages and omitted the names of people still living as a matter of courtesy. The perspective displayed by my interlocutor provides much additional insight into the perspective of Bloomington which I hope to address in a future post.]
as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for your response. I was pretty much convinced that no one reads my blog anymore, or my forum for that matter. At the very least I have an audience of one. To clarify, my blog is where I like to collect and work through my thoughts. This particular subject, Shaykh Isa and the Tantric/Primordial element of his teaching/legacy is one of which I still bear a tremendous amount of confusion. If you would take the time to respond to my most recent (and subsequent) blogs publically or privately as you see fit, I believe that this would be of tremendous personal benefit to me in being able to discuss these matters with someone else.
Concerning the photograph, there are hundreds of Shaykh Isa's photographs online. Why does this one deserve such a significant response? If it is a representation and depiction of beauty and truth in accordance with Shaykh Isa's teachings concerning sacred nudity, isn't it good that we look upon it, share it, and contextualize it.
as-salaam alaykum. You are thinking about and reading far too deeply into things. My blog generally collects my public correspondence which I gather principally for myself but which I make available for anyone to read who may find it useful or interesting. The photos accompanying the blog entries are meant to be aesthetically pleasing. I do not require anyone's permission to write and I am comfortable sharing my ideas openly and freely as I possess no secrets pertaining to religion and the spiritual life.
Suffice to say that I would be interested to hear about your personal thoughts on and reactions to the content of my recent blog entries none of which I fully endorse because, as I said before I am still working out my ideas.
as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for your continuing correspondence and well-intentioned concern. Regarding the photograph in question, I cropped out Shaykh Isa's penis to avoid a potentially offensive display of nudity. Also I do not believe there is anything inherently scandalous in the picture that should offend anyone's sensibilities. Being that these ideas and images have been in circulation for nearly 25 years, I also believe that there are very few interested people, if any, that have not seen or been exposed to them. As far as their discussion goes, that is another matter entirely, and this domain is dominated by the polemicists.
As far as my disillusionment (disappointment) with Shaykh Isa is concerned, this is entirely personal. By that I mean to say that whereas previously I believed that the revelation of his private life demonstrated a discontinuity with his teachings, I am coming to realize increasingly that I was simply not making the necessary connections and was also subject to various outside interpretations which influenced my expectations of him. I am currently exploring some of these connections which contextualize his Primordiality and also highlight both his continuity and discontinuity with classical Sufism as I gain more exposure to our vast heritage ...
I have no qualms about you sharing our exchange or including these gentlemen in it should you feel it necessary. As I said, I have no secrets when it comes to religion and the spiritual life. However, I should hope that this would not preclude you from sharing your personal opinions, as this is what I most value in the context of our present exchange.
Do you have any personal thoughts on the content of my most recent blog posts? Also, in your opinion what are the "fundamental mistakes of a spiritual order" that I am committing?
To reiterate my perspective once more, my intention in discussing these things is not to scandalize but instead give serious consideration toward matters of which there is significant doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. I am driven by the same motivations that lay behind the following words of E.F. Schumacher who stated,
"The principle of the philosophical mapmakers seemed to be 'if in doubt, leave it out,' or put it into a museum. It occurred to me, however, that the question of proof was a very subtle and difficult one. Would it not be wiser to turn the principle into its opposite and say: 'If in doubt, show it prominently'? After all, matters that are beyond doubt are, in a sense, dead; they constitute no challenge to the living. To accept anything as true means to incur the risk of error. If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimize the risk of error, but at the same time I maximize the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important, and most rewarding things in life."
as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for your candor. To clarify, my problem is with perceived inconsistencies between teaching and behavior. I say perceived because I am beginning to realize that there is more support from his teachings than I had previously recognized in which case the consideration changes to whether I agree or disagree with certain of his teachings and perspectives.
To draw the criterion of judgement from a superficial assessment of the spiritual lives of others is very limited. I say that it is superficial because it is not possible for us to peer into the hearts of others or to view their private lives and thoughts. A pleasing countenance and tranquil demeanor can conceal both ignoble intentions and doctrinal aberrations. Frithjof Schuon is a prime example of this and the revelation of his private life has been a source of disillusionment to many who followed him as and expected nothing other than a Sufi master rather than a universalist sage condoning a kind of syncretism and heterodoxy-cum-intrinsic orthodoxy derived from his personal proclivities.
The definitive criterion of orthodoxy that I have at my disposal are those revealed by God within the Islamic tradition enshrined within the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet, the various nuances and elaborations provided by the last thousand or so years of the Sufi heritage, and the teachings and example of [my own shaykh]. I also have my own discernment honed by over [twenty years] of exposure to various forms of heterodoxy along with a simultaneous exposure to various manifestations of unambiguous orthodoxy.
as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for your thoughtful response, constructive criticism, and concerned spiritual advice all of which I accept in the spirit of the fraternity and friendship in which they were given. You raise many points of interest so I may have to temporarily change the style of my reply. I hope that you will excuse any unintentional formality that may result from this change.
... If you believe that your view is correct, why would you not want me to share it? As for myself, I don't necessarily have a cohesive view yet per se, as I have not made up my mind about Shaykh Isa, hence the "confusion, doubt, uncertainty," etc. The only thing that I have certitude of right now are the criteria of orthodoxy that I mentioned previously, certitudes that I can use as a standard for discernment.
... On the contrary, my general tendency toward Shaykh 'Isa is one of gratitude and a salutary appraisal of the contributions that he has made to the Shadhili tradition, theoretical gnosis, and the exposition of the morphology of religions. If it appears otherwise, this is due either to the belief that one's viewpoint is determined by the stance taken on a limited number of polemical issues (as when people dismiss all evidence of the Prophet's noble character - alayhi salatu wa-salaam - based upon confusion surrounding the age of Aisha) or otherwise due to my open and unrestricted communication regarding such issues following the sentiment of E.F. Schumacher, i.e. when in doubt display it prominently.
... I am most disappointed that Shaykh Isa did not leave things clear and unambiguous for us. This is one of the reasons that I am very grateful for [my own Shaykh]. His teaching and example do not require any subtle explanation, appeal to concepts such as intrinsic orthodoxy, Khidri initiation, or istikhara to make them palatable.
[Concerning my statement: "universalist sage condoning a kind of syncretism and heterodoxy-cum-intrinsic orthodoxy derived from his personal proclivities."]
None of these ideas originate with me. I assumed familiarity with this juxtaposition of perspectives. Here are some reference points:
Schuon as Sufi Master
"No matter how some might seek to aggrandize some of the deviant currents and eddies and aberrations that surrounded him in his old age and try to present him as a figure who had gone 'beyond' the Islamic form, Schuon was and remained rooted in the Islamic tradition to the moment of his death ..." (S.H. Nasr, F.S. and the Islamic Tradition)
Schuon as Universalist Sage
"It would also be inadequate however to characterize Schuon simply as a Sufi master open to the other religions. Even though his message was providentially manifested within the Sufi framework and not superimposed on it, Schuon was consciously and from the very beginning centered on the sophia perennis, the everlasting and informal wisdom and not on Islam. In the third part of this article, we will finally propose a different characterization of Schuon. On the basis of a tripartite division suggested by Schuon himself between the prophet, the saint and the sage, we will conclude that Sheikh Isa possesses the stature and the function of a sage, of a Platonic or Hindu type." (Renaud Fabbri, The Milk of the Virgin)
Schuon on Extrinsic Heterodoxy and Intrinsic Orthodoxy
"What perhaps renders somewhat difficult the definition of orthodoxy is that in fact it presents two principal modes, one being essential or intrinsic and the other formal or extrinsic: the latter is its accordance with truth in some particular revealed form, the former its accordance with essential and universal truth, whether or not this agrees with a given particular form, so that these two modes may sometimes oppose one another outwardly." (Orthodoxy and Intellectuality)
Schuon on Syncretism
"A condition of the legitimacy of a spiritual school or community is the presence of a traditional form; in our case: Islam. Nevertheless, the more conscious one is of the supraformal nature of spiritual truth and Reality, the more conscious one must be also of the relativity of the traditional form; and according to the spatial or temporal circumstances, one must in one fashion or another manifest this consciousness." (Letter from January 1983)
... There are a few useful documents that I have set aside from those collections [i.e. The Koslow and Glasse collections], items written by [...], Shaykh Abu Bakr, Sidi Ibrahim, and Shaykh Isa, but for the most part the problems arise from a close reading of the ordinary teachings in the books and texts.
[Concerning my statement: "the real scandal lies not in the behaviors themselves but in the elaborate rationalizations created to justify them, explanations created by a masterful metaphysician of the highest caliber which are assimilated by many unknowingly and perpetuated by others deliberately."]
What I had in mind here specifically was Sidi [...]'s dozen or so points made in response to my thoughts on the Tantric teaching. I believe that if you have to work that hard to convince yourself and others that something is good and right and true then clearly there is something amiss.
Perhaps you also remember that he did not even attempt a response to my points of contention, instead promptly announcing that I was being led astray by the devil as evidenced by the presence of a doubt concerning some element of Shaykh Isa's teaching, method, or personality. As I recall, this is also the reasoning that you used to implicate [...], concluding that because he no longer followed the themes and the alchemy, that he too had been led astray by the devil. If anything this type of reasoning as well the aforementioned efforts toward self-justification constitute the real scandal.
I agree with all of you that doubt is a powerful tool of the devil when it is applied to "God, His books, His Angels, and His Messengers" but I do not think that this applies equally to a doubt concerning Shaykh Isa, unless of course you have elevated him to the status of the Prophet Muhammad, in which case doubt will be the least of your problems.
Again, I am thankful to [my own Shaykh] for not putting me through this trial and instead presenting a clear and unambiguous orthodoxy, one that does not require me to hide any aspect of my spiritual life or perspective from public view for fear of censure, persecution, misunderstanding or exposure. I am also thankful to belong to a Tariqah which does not censure or reject me when I express doubts or misunderstanding, which gives me unrestricted access to information, and where I am encouraged by friends and teachers such as Sidi [...], to become the most perfect expression of my Self that I am capable of.
Thank you again for your correspondence. I find the exchange to be very helpful.
With regard to the reconsideration of your spiritual advice, I am open to subjecting myself to scrutiny, in fact I welcome it and find it useful, just as I found your and Sayyida [...]'s admonitions useful in this regard. In light of the consideration of adab, however, please be mindful of the following. In the space of just a few paragraphs, following a detailed description of your own qualifications and achievements in the spiritual life, you have accused me of "temptation by the devil, overconfidence, lack of qualified peers, ugliness, indelicacy, hostility, lack of guidance, lack of adab, spiritual immaturity, lack of discretion, lack of delicacy, lack of sincerity, lack of piety, ignorance, rebelliousness, stubbornness, pride, individualistic activism, insufficient exposure to people of high spiritual calibre, and deficiency of self-criticism." The list is fairly exhaustive and to my mind does not demonstrate the same "gravity and gentleness that betokens humility" which I am told I should have.
as-salaam alaykum. I too believe that it is time to put these things aside and move on to gentler exchanges. I have a few more pertinent ideas that I would like to share but I fear that we may only be speaking alongside each other so I will reserve these for my blog where I will continue to pursue questions of interest and importance to me. You are as always, welcome to address, respond to, or critique any of my ideas and investigations publicly or privately as you see fit. I am not entrenched in any particular viewpoint and am always open to the consideration of new ideas from whatever quarter they might come from.
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.