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, July 23, 2015
If Shaykh Isa's teachings, method, and pneumatic personality are true without qualification and are a manifestation of the Truth, a gift and message from heaven, then the expectation is that they are to be accepted totally, for "it is in the nature of the truth to require of us all that we are." A commonly applied concomitant of this is that should a doubt arise, it is due either to stupidity and a moral failing which requires chastisement, or to a satanic influence which requires spiritual guidance to lead you into conformity with the Truth.
The effects of this logic are paramount. Twenty-five years ago, they led to a phenomenon which some people referred to as a "Reign of Terror" in Bloomington inflicted upon them from above by their functionaries where they felt subjected to psychological abuse, manipulation, and control and wherein the doctrine and method inherently capable of being understood had become reduced to a kind of ideology. According to one description, "The result was a kind of ‘kafkaesque’ bureaucratic world of petty and meaningless hierarchy. A world wherein no one could really lay hold of simple truth, understand exactly what was meant, or even speak frankly without being dragged into complexes of guilt or confusion.” Or as another faqir wrote in a letter which I could have written myself, based even upon my limited and provisional exposure to the Bloomington perspective over 25 years later,
“Sidi […]’s letter … is an example of the classic ad hominem of the Marymis: To prove someone wrong, one ignores his remarks, statements, or facts, and merely attacks him personally as a liar and calumniator. If one were to say that two and two equal four, then this would be quite wrong because one has not first of all cleared it with the Shaykh or his representatives. It becomes true only when they say so. What S. […] and other Avatarists are implying is that one cannot know the truth outside of Shaykh Isa’s judgement. But that is pure solipsism, for it subjects us to the opinions of Shaykh Isa and his representatives as if only they knew what the truth might be. We can never have objective criteria independent of either him or his lieutenants. The conclusion is inevitable: Neither the Koran nor the Sunnah can supply us with standards by which to judge persons or things or even Shaykh Isa and his representatives. We all fall, therefore, into perpetual arguments in a circle: we cannot know that anything is true until we ask Shaykh Isa and his chiefs; but, then, how do we know that what they are saying is true? Well, that is simple enough: we merely ask them if it is true that what they are saying is true, and they will tell us. In all Avatarism, there are always ad hominem arguments and circular reasoning.”
We do not have to take such reports on faith or create complex imaginative scenarios. All we have to do is open our mouths to speak and witness the reaction from Bloomington that persists to this very day. When I proposed to make a critical examination of the nature and problems that arise from the consideration of the pneumatic personality of Shaykh Isa in relation to his primordial practices and tantric teachings, the response is clear: By virtue of questioning these truths, you are overestimating yourself and underestimating Shaykh Isa. This demonstrates a lack of judgement and humility, a hidden spiritual pride, a disqualifying lack of faqr, and ultimately a temptation from the devil.
My most recent encounter with this perspective was not quite as gentle. Throughout one of the most central messages in that exchange, after having had my request for a personal engagement of my reflections repeatedly ignored, I was then subjected to the most grievous insults upon my person under the guise of pious and concerned spiritual advice, not once, but twice. These included,
"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."
Many of these perspectives are conducive to the climate of ideological totalism which the interested reader may do well to review and even perhaps use as a basis of systematic self-examination. I personally found such an exercise to be humbling, enlightening, and to a degree liberating. (see Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism by Robert Jay Lifton, Chapter 22: Ideological Totalism) Ultimately, all of these perspectives may be traced back to precedents set by Shaykh Isa himself as evidenced by the following:
Commentary of the Shaykh Concerning an Absurd and Harmful Opinion:
Some have put forth the opinion that there is a flaw in the personality of the Shaykh which is supposedly responsible for a certain crisis in the Tariqah.
To this, one must give the following answers:
It is impossible that a man of the Shaykh’s quality,
1. Who has founded the Tariqah
2. Who has written some twenty doctrinal books of the first import,
3. Who has written hundreds of spiritual texts,
4. Who has brought the celestial treasure of the Six Themes
5. Who has received extraordinary graces from the Blessed Virgin, for himself and for the entire Tariqah, --
It is impossible that a man of this quality be affected with a flaw having as its effect the most serious disorders in his Community, supposing they are real.
To believe this is
1. Either to be stupid
2. Or else to be under a satanic influence.
All of the foregoing is a stark contrast to what I have been exposed to within my own circle of friends who base themselves upon the emulation of the personality of the Prophet Muhammad – may peace and blessing be upon him. The following story from the life of Allama Tabataba’i is particularly illustrative of the general nature of my experience.
“Allāma once told us that he visited the outskirts of Tehran one summer, where ideas of Communism and Materialism were prevalent. Some of those who held materialist views wanted to freely discuss their thoughts with him. He went to them and participated in a discussion from morning until evening that may have lasted 8 hours. He said, “I discussed with this one individual using the view point of burhāne sidīdqiyīn (a Shi’ite philosophical proof of the existence of God)”. Thereafter, this individual who was a Marxist saw one of his peers on a street in Tehran who asked him, “where did you reach in your visit and discussion with Agha Tabātabā’ī?” He replied, “Agha Tabātabā’ī has made me a monotheist. He spent eight hours in discussion with us, and in the process he made one communist a believer in God and one Marxist a monotheist. He listened to every non-believer’s insult yet never took offense and never quarreled”.
This is precisely the type of guidance that I receive at the hands of my Murshid and other friends. They listen to my thoughtful considerations patiently and without argumentation or reprimand, for years as in this particular case, and gently assist me in coming to an understanding for myself based upon the perspective that it is ultimately me alone who will be held accountable for my thoughts and deeds and for the condition of my own soul when I stand before God.
My Bloomington interlocutor expressed the opinion that shaytan seems particularly active against the fuqara and later extended this by stating (I paraphrase) “the devil is constantly assaulting the fuqara to temptation. It is possible that any thought that enters into our minds could have been placed there by shaytan. The only way to ensure that our thoughts are not the result of shaytan is to objectify them and communicate them to someone more spiritually advanced than we are. This is why we begin every activity by saying – I seek refuge from the accursed satan.”
I casually replied that Shaytan has never seemed to play so central a role in my spiritual life and later recalled to mind that Shaykh Isa once related that according to a Shadhili tradition, based upon a vision of the Imam Al-Shadhili, that “no faqir who is faithful to the Shadhiliyyah Tariqah will be touched by the fire, and that according to the Qur’an, Maryam and her descendants are protected against Satan.” (Text 619)
I cannot help but wonder if, in consciously and deliberately moving beyond the boundaries of the Sharia and the Shadhili heritage rooted in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet, the effect has not been that for some of them, the presence of shaytan and his activity has become all the more palpable as result.