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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ibn Ata Allah on Invoking with the Shahadah



The novice should invoke with perfect force and respectful veneration. La ilaha illa llah should rise from above the navel. By the phrase la ilaha, he should intend excluding from the heart what is other than-God. By the phrase illa llah, he should intend uniting the formula with the cone-shaped physical heart so as to fix illa llah firmly in the heart and let it flow throughout all the members of the body, causing the meaning of the invocation to be present in his heart at every instant.

- Ibn Ata Allah, The Key to Salvation, p. 70

Monday, August 24, 2015

Where the Journey Begins





In his book, The Alchemy of Happiness, the great 11th century Muslim sage Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali wrote that "the key to the knowledge of God is knowledge of one's own self ... Therefore, thou must seek out the truth about thyself: What sort of a thing art thou? Whence camest thou? Whither goest thou? Why hast thou come to this stopping place? For what purpose wert thou created? What is thy happiness and in what does it lie? What is thy misery and in what does it lie?" The teachings of the traditional school originally resonated with me because they provide concrete and intellectually satisfying answers to these fundamental questions of the nature and purpose of human existence by drawing upon and contextualizing the wisdom of the various religions and philosophies of the world.

Islam was providentially the last of the world's great religions that I was to explore in my personal quest for meaning. This was especially appropriate because it represents the last great revelation of God to man and as such serves as something of a synthesis and recapitulation of the essential elements of previous traditions while explicitly confirming them within its vision of the cosmos and history. According to the Quran, there has never been a time when humanity has been without divine guidance and the various religions issue from the messages transmitted to God's Prophets in all periods of history. Although the proximate cause of my conversion to Islam was my profound affinity and love for the Prophet Muhammad - may peace and blessings be upon him - that emerged as I read Martin Lings' biography, the religion itself also satisfied my need for universality through the explicit acknowledgement of the legitimacy of other religions.

Each orthodox tradition contains within itself the means of satisfying the needs of all human types and dispositions including a path of salvation through the accumulation of meritorious actions, a path of beatification through devotion to a human manifestation of the Divinity, and a path of unification through interior knowledge of the Divine Reality. Sufism reveals the inner meaning of the outward observances of the religion of Islam while simultaneously providing access to the fullness of the possibilities contained in the revelation by integrating elements of all three of these paths to God.

To take what you are reading and actually begin to incorporate it into your life is to make the transition from theory into practice. It is not sufficient to take up the practice of a few techniques, however. Within the context of a perspective which embraces both the universality and exclusivity of various religions, it is necessary to search within yourself to determine which tradition is appropriate to your needs and disposition and then to commit yourself to it totally.

In the Islamic tradition, which you appear to be drawn to, this means to practice the five pillars of the religion beginning with reciting the Shahadah with conviction in the presence of Muslim witnesses. This is the first meritorious act of the religion which incorporates elements of both faith and knowledge and is also the act that formally makes you a Muslim. This two-fold testimony, la ilaha illa llah, muhammadur rasulullah, communicates your knowledge of the reality of God and of Muhammad as a prophet and messenger of God. Esoterically it also contains implicitly and symbolically the entirety of the doctrine of metaphysics. Furthermore, to take the first step upon the straight path of Islam requires a tremendous act of faith because at this stage both the road and its destination are not as of yet clearly defined. In my experience it is like leaping into an abyss and relying upon God himself to guide you to the narrow bridge which may carry you safely to the other shore.

This utterly simple but ultimately profound act is where the journey begins.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Esoteric Amorality


 Tantric Carvings from Vishwanath Temple, Khajuraho

Greetings of Peace. Today I began re-reading The Transcendent Unity of Religions after many years and encountered the following esoteric conception of amorality. I was surprised to find it in this book because I was under the impression that these ideas were not developed as such until many years later. I found the example at the end to be somewhat problematic and was wondering if anyone had any additional thoughts on the matter. Here is the quotation

“It may nevertheless be asked what consequences such a ‘nonmoral’—we do not say ‘immoral’—conception of ‘evil’ implies for the initiate; the reply to this is that in the consciousness of the initiate, and consequently in his life, ‘sin’ is replaced by ‘dissipation’, that is by everything which is opposed to spiritual ‘concentration’ or in other words to unity. Needless to say, the difference here is primarily one of principle and of method, and this difference does not affect all individuals in the same way; however, what morally is ‘sin’ is nearly always ‘dissipation’ from the initiatory point of view. This ‘concentration’—or tendency towards unity (tawhîd)—becomes, in Islamic exotericism, faith in the Unity of God, and the greatest transgression is to associate other divinities with Allâh; for the initiate (the faqir), on the other hand, this transgression will have a universal bearing in the sense that every purely individual affirmation will be tainted with this aspect of false divinity, and if, from the religious point of view, the greatest merit lies in the sincere profession of Divine Unity, the faqir will realize this profession in a spiritual manner, giving to it a meaning which embraces all the orders of the universe, and this will be achieved precisely by the concentration of his whole being on the one Divine Reality. To make clearer this analogy between ‘sin' and ‘dissipation’ we may take as an example the reading of a good book. From the exoteric point of view this will never be considered as a reprehensible act, but it may be considered incidentally so in esotericism in cases where it amounts to a dissipation, or when the dissipation entailed by the act outweighs its usefulness. Inversely, a thing which would nearly always be considered by religious morality as a ‘temptation’, and hence as a first step on the path to sin, may sometimes play the opposite part in esotericism, inasmuch as, far from being a dissipation, ‘sinful’ or otherwise, it may be a factor of concentration by virtue of the immediate intelligibility of its symbolism. There are even cases, in Tantrism for example and in certain cults of antiquity, where acts which in themselves would count as sins, not only according to a particular religious morality but also according to the legislation of the civilization in which they occur, serve as a support for intellection, a fact which presupposes a strong predominance of the contemplative element over the passionate; however, a religious morality is never made for the benefit of contemplatives only but for that of all men.” (p.49-50)

***

Greetings of Peace. Thank you for your responses. I seem to have somehow overlooked that lengthy passage concerning nudity during my first reading of the referenced chapter or perhaps it is simply the case that I did not have a frame of reference for it yet. I am beginning to realize that my first foray into Schuon's writings was much like my first exposure to Plato. I read through his work quickly and uncritically, understanding portions of it while passing over the rest in silence. It is very relevant to my own problematic reference because it provides a concrete illustration with which to engage the idea of the non-moral dimension of esoterism. Indeed, the majority of the references to tantrism in his writings seem self-reflective, pertaining to the explanation and justification of his own practice of sacred nudity and perspective concerning sexuality.

The original problem that I encountered in the passage that I quoted concerns the seeming tension and disproportion between Revelation and Intellection within the domain of moral activity. If esoterism is capable of bypassing the exoteric laws of morality by an appeal to the symbolic and theophanic quality of the natural world, carried to its furthest possible application, this effectively destroys the significance of moral boundaries and renders uninhibited access to anything provided that the qualitative vision of things is accessible through it. Again, carried to its furthest possible application, all created things bear the trace of the divinity.

***

I agree with you concerning the concept of intrinsic morality which we have discussed in the past. In fact we may expand the inquiry to include the concepts of intrinsic orthodoxy and the implied concomitant of intrinsic orthopraxy all of which stem from the dichotomy introduced between subjective intellection and objective revelation. If, to follow our example, an objectively beneficent activity transposed into the subjective intellectual domain of the faqir (engaged in methodical invocation for example) can become a dispersive and therefore intrinsically immoral activity and an objectively immoral activity transposed into the same context can become beneficent, this seems give rise to a rather deeply rooted and problematic relativism. If one man's poison is another man's medicine and potentially vice versa, what happens to the higher order and deeply rooted nature of things?

Thank you for engaging in this exchange. My interrogation of these ideas is not meant as some kind of challenge. It is only a small part of my ongoing effort toward understanding Frithjof Schuon's teachings and their practical application.

***

My initial perception of the seeming relativity of the esoteric perspective was limited and provisional. I now recognize that this is because although all things may bear traces of the divinity, they do not all do so in the same manner or to an identical qualitative degree. Schuon refers to exoteric morality transposed into the esoteric domain as the Sense of the Sacred, a mode of intelligence which in contrast to the rigorous and logical mind, is characterized by a kind of aesthetic and musical sensibility which allows us to exercise a subjective discernment over the holiness and interiorizing qualities of things independent of but not necessarily in condratiction to their consecration through an objective revelation.

***

This is a very important reminder for me as I seem to have created a false dichotomy between these two phenomena that Schuon did not intend or in fact communicate. Revelation and intellection are not equivalent to exoterism and esoterism. Rather, it seems that revelation is addressed to our will and sentiments exoterically and our intelligence esoterically, whereas our intellect itself is unconditioned and therefore linked in a mysterious way to the esoteric and universal dimensions of all revelations indiscriminately, to that domain of metaphysics in which they converge upon one another.

In case you are wondering where all these questions are coming from, I basically woke up one morning to find that I had been operating under the illusion of certitude due to an acceptance of these teachings without any true understanding. The adolescent breaking free of his childhood fantasies concerning God affords an apt analogy. Unlike the typical adolescent response of rebellion, however, I am instead reapplying myself to these teachings with renewed vigor. As Schuon wrote, "It is all too evident that fundamental intelligence is manifested, not necessarily in the fact of accepting lofty ideas, but by the capacity to really understand them..."

***

The following is a quotation from William Chittick's The The Sufi Path of Knowledge concerning The Scale of the Law that is very pertinent to all of the above considerations. He wrote,

"One of the most common terms that Ibn al-Arabi employs in referring to revelation in both a general sense and the specific sense of the Koran and Sunna is shar', which will be translated as 'Law' and from which the well-known term Shari'a, the revealed law of Islam, is derived. The original sense of the term is 'to enter into the water to drink of it,' said of animals. Secondarily it means a clear and open track or path. It came to be applied metaphorically to the clear and obvious path which leads to God, or in other words, the Law which God revealed as guidance to mankind. Ibn al-Arabi often speaks of revealed Law in general terms, showing plainly that he means revelation in a general sense, given to all peoples throughout history, down to Muhammad. But when he turns to specific applications and interpretations of principles, he always remains within the Islamic universe ...

According to Ibn al-Arabi, the Law is the scale (al-mizan) in which must be weighed everything having to do with God, knowledge, love, spiritual realization, and the human state in general. Without the Scale of the Law, we will remain forever swimming in a shoreless ocean of ambiguity. Only the Scale can provide a point of reference in terms of which knowledge and all human endeavors may be judged. The Law makes it possible to move toward the Center and avoid wallowing in indefinite dispersion, overcome by ignorance, multiplicity, and misguidance.

One might say that the function of the Law is to sort out relationships and put things in their proper perspective, this providing a divine norm for human knowledge and action. Faced with He/not He wherever they look, human beings cannot possibly search out the He and cling to light without a discernment deriving from the Light Itself. No doubt everyone has an inner light known as intelligence, but that also needs correct guidance to grow in intensity and begin functioning on its own. Only the friends of God have reached the station where they can follow the inner light without reference to the outer law. But this, as Ibn al-Arabi would say, is a station of great danger (khatar). Iblis and countless 'spiritual teachers' have been led astray by it. The law remains the only concrete anchor." (p.27)

***

Although the question of external authority was not central to my consideration, it certainly is not unrelated. My primary consideration was that if the exoteric perspective determines practical limitations through the legal dimensions of revelation (in a general sense without touching upon the consideration of varying interpretations as you have demonstrated), does the esoteric perspective also possess criteria for determining practical limitations? The answer was found in the realization that although esoterism does not conceive of limitations in light of a morality pertinent to the passional aspect of man, it does take consideration of qualitative differences "in the nature of things" with respect to their relative remotion or proximity to the Principle. It is of course comforting to note Schuon's acknowledgement that there is oftentimes, though not necessarily in all cases, a direct correlation and complementarity between the domains of moral rectitude and contemplative concentration as when he states, "what morally is ‘sin’ is nearly always ‘dissipation’ from the initiatory point of view."

***

God-willing brother, I think that [the movement from taqlid to tahqiq] is an appropriate description of my current tendency. I am also coming to believe that it is a necessary transition on the path of Gnosis.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Am I an Ideological Totalist?

Am I an Ideological Totalist?:
A Self-Examination Based Upon the Research of Robert Jay Lifton



The following is an outline of the method of self-examination that I referenced in The Devil is Especially Active Against the Fuqara which I employed to interrogate my beliefs and the cult-like tendencies that I had developed in relation to the traditional school. Whereas I am thoroughly convinced that ideological totalism is absent from my present environment and affiliations, it does seem to have crystalized at a late stage of the development of the movement centered in Bloomington where elements of it seem to have persisted to the present day. It is curious to note Lifton's observation that "... if totalism has at any time been prominent in the movement, there is always the possibility of its reappearance, even after long periods of relative moderation." All questions are derived from the eight psychological themes common to the totalist environment described by Lifton in Chapter 22 of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

Milieu Control

Is my communication with the world outside of the microcosm of my group limited or controlled?

Does my group dictate what is acceptable and unacceptable for me to see, hear, read, write, experience, express, or think?

Does my group claim exclusive possession of the knowledge of reality?

Mystical Manipulation

Is the central or controlling agency of my group surrounded by a mystique?

Does my group claim to be the vanguard chosen by a supernatural agency to carry out a mystical imperative of wide-ranging social or cosmic importance?

Is any thought or action which questions the higher purpose of my group considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose - to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission?

Am I asked by my group to place absolute trust or faith in the veracity of the mystical imperative?

Does the preservation of my trust in the group necessitate that I manipulate others into the adoption of a similar perspective?

Have I been deprived of the opportunity or capacity for self-expression and independent action?

The Demand for Purity

Does my group sharply divide the experiential world into the "pure", absolutely good ideas, feelings, and actions consistent with the doctrine and policy of the group and the "impure", absolutely evil ideas, feelings, and actions which consist of anything contrary to this?

Am I asked to rigorously root out and destroy all taints and poisons from myself in the pursuit of absolute purity or perfection for my own benefit and to prevent them from harming others, especially the group?

Do I suffer from guilt and shame as a result of failing to live up to the demand for purity?

Does my group subject me to guilt and shame through rejection, accusation, humiliation, or ostracism due to my inability to live up to their demand for purity?

Does my group possess control over me through their capacity to forgive my guilt?

Do I view my impurities as arising from influences outside of the program and perspective of my group?

Do I continually and hostilely denounce and express my hatred toward and the threat posed by these outside influences? Does this help to alleviate my sense of guilt?

The Cult of Confession

Does my group demand that I confess to real or imagined crimes and sins, especially those committed against the group, and submit to a cure or penance?

Does my group require that I expose as much as possible my life experiences, thoughts, and passions, especially negative ones?

Do I suppress and keep secret any doubts about or resentments toward the group as well as any aspects of identity or personality derived from or existing outside of the program and perspective of the group?

Do I believe that the more I accuse myself, the more right I have to judge others?

The Sacred Science

Do I believe that the doctrine of my group is sacred, attribute to it a supernatural origin, and view it as the ultimate vision of human, cosmic, and/or divine order and morality?

Does the group prohibit me from questioning these basic assumptions concerning the doctrine, its revealer, or current expounders and representatives?

Do I hold those who question the authority of the doctrine of my group, its revealer, or representatives to be immoral, irreverent, illogical, or ignorant?

Do I believe that the doctrine of my group is absolute and true for all people at all times?

Do I obtain a sense of comfort and security from the exclusive possession of the truth communicated to me by my group in the form of sweeping non-rational insights or intuitions?

Do I feel guilty due to or afraid of exposure or attraction to ideas which contradict those of my group? Does this hamper my quest for knowledge or receptive search for truth?

Loading the Language

Does my group reduce the most complex and far-reaching ideas into brief, highly reductive, definitively sounding phrases?

Do I memorize and repeat these phrases to describe the ideas of my group toward which I possess a sense of certitude?

Do I use repetitious, all-encompassing, abstract, categorical, or judgmental jargon to criticize, dismiss, or avoid the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, or the search for balance and perspective in personal judgements?

Is my use and development of language stunted by the repetition of the same words and phrases?

Do I feel a sense of insight and security or constriction and uneasiness through this repetitive use of the common words and phrases of my group?

Doctrine Over Person

Are historical events altered, rewritten, or reinterpreted to conform to the doctrine of my group and its internal logic?

Does my group insist that my character and identity be reshaped to fit the rigid contours of its doctrinal mold rather than pursuing accordance with my own special nature and potentialities?

If my group begins to deviate from its prescribed doctrine and program, does it employ new rationalizations to demonstrate its unerring consistency and integrity?

Does my group demand absolute sincerity through doctrinal compliance both in terms of my beliefs and my direction of personal change?

Does my group attribute any tendencies toward doctrinal deviation to personal problems, errors in thinking, negative heredity, or the trauma of past experiences?

Does my acquiescence to the demand for sincerity through doctrinal conformity give me a sense of well-being and wholeness?

The Dispensing of Existence

Does my group draw a sharp distinction between those who have a right to existence and those who have no such right?

Does my group express or imply the conviction that it presents the one path to true existence and the one valid mode of being and that all others are false or limited?

Did my entrance into the perspective or program of the group involve a conversion experience?

Do I believe that my primary reason for existence is to believe the doctrines and follow the practices of the group?

Do I believe that there is nothing that exists for me outside of the doctrine and practice of the group?

Am I afraid to leave the group?

The following video, although somewhat tongue-in-cheek, accurately portrays in outline the extreme manifestations of the totalist milieu.





Saturday, August 01, 2015

Al-Ghazali on the Guide of the Way



When these veils [wealth, rank and pomp, following precedent, and sin] have been pulled away, one's similitude is that of the person who has performed the obligatory purification and is prepared to perform the obligatory formal prayer. Now, he needs an imam to lead him in performing the prayer. That is the spiritual guide (pir), for without a spiritual guide, traveling the path will not be direct. The path to God is hidden and mixed with the paths of Satan. The path to God is one, but there are thousand paths to the false. How will it be possible to travel that one path without a guide? When one has found his spiritual guide, he must put all of his affairs in the guide's hands and set aside control over himself. He must know that his profit in the spiritual guide's error will be greater than his own correctness. Whatever he hears from the spiritual guide that he does not understand should remind him of the story of Moses and Khidr. That story is for the spiritual guide and his disciple, for the shaykhs know things which the mind of the disciple cannot entertain ...

Therefore when the affair is entrusted to the spiritual guide, the first act of the spiritual guide is to place one in a fortress so that evils do not circle around him. That fortress has four walls: one is seclusion, another is silence, another is hunger, and another is wakefulness. Hunger closes the way of Satan, sleeping little illuminates the soul, silence keeps the soul from the distraction of talk, and seclusion turns away the darkness of people from him and closes the way to the eyes and ears. Sahl Tustari (R) says: "The saints who have become saints became so by seclusion, hunger, silence, and wakefulness."

When one has risen out of the path of preoccupation, one starts to travel on the path. The beginning of the path is that one start to overcome the first obstacles of the path. The obstacles of the path are the blameworthy qualities of the soul. They are the root of the things from which one must flee - such as the greed for wealth and rank, the greed for comfort, haughtiness, hypocrisy, and the like - until the materials of distraction are cut off from within and the soul is empty of them. It may happen that a person be emptied of all of these until he is not polluted by more than one blameworthy quality. Then he must strive to sever that one by the means that the shaykh approves and considers more suited to him, for these vary with conditions.

Now that he has cleared the field, the sowing of the seed begins. The seed is the Remembrance of God Most High, since he has been emptied of all save Him. Then he sits in seclusion and continually recites Allah, Allah in his soul and with his tongue until the time when the tongue falls silent and the soul begins to speak. Then the soul, too, ceases to speak and the meaning of the word overwhelms the soul. The significance is not in the letters. It is not Arabic or Persian, for speaking with the soul is also speech. Speech is the sheath and the husk of the seed, not the seed itself. Then, the import of that must become firmly established in the soul, dominating and victorious, so that the soul not be forced to that state. Rather, it should become like a lover from which the soul cannot be held back by force. Shibli said to his disciple, Husri: "If from Friday to Friday when thou comest to me, thou lettest anything pass in thy soul other than God Most High, thy coming to me will be unlawful."

So, when the soul has been cleared of the thorns of worldly temptations and the seeds have been planted, nothing still remains that is related to free choice. The soul has chosen to be there in that condition. After that, one remains waiting for what will grow and appear. Usually the seed is not wasted, for God Most High says: Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter, We give him increase in his harvest. (42:20) He says "Whoever cultivates the work of the Hereafter and does the seed, We shall bestow in crease upon him.

From this point, the conditions of the disciples are various: there is the person to whom the meaning of the word begins to appear plainly, but spurious imaginings come to him. There is the person who is delivered from these, but the essence of the angels and the spirits of the Prophets begin to appear to him in beautiful forms, as though he were dreaming. He opens his eyes and still sees them. After that, there are other states, the discussion of which would be lengthy. There is no benefit in relating them because the way is for traveling, not speaking. Each person has a different experience. For whoever desires to travel that path, it is better that he not have heard anything about it, so that expectation not occupy his soul and itself become veil.

- Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness, pp. 473-475