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.

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.

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