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.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Absolute, Infinite, Perfection

Commentary on Surah al-Ikhlas by Seyyed Hossein Nasr excerpted from The Need for a Sacred Science, p. 10-11

The metaphysical doctrine of God as absolute and infinite is contained in an explicit fashion in the Quranic chapter called Unity or Sincerity, al-Tawhid, or al-Ikhlas (CXIII), which according to Muslims summarizes the Islamic doctrine of God.

In the Name of God - Most Merciful, Most Compassionate
Say: He is God, the One (al-Ahad)!
God, the eternal cause of all beings (al-Samad)!
He begeteth not nor was He begotten.
And there is none like unto Him.

The "Say" (qul) already refers to the source of manifestaion in the Divine Principle, to the Logos which is at once the Divine Instrument or Manifestation and the source of manifestation in the Divine Order. He (huwwa) is the Divine Essence, God in Himself, God as such or in His suchness. Al-Ahad attests not only to God's oneness but also to His absoluteness. God is one because He is absolute and absolute because He is one, al-ahadiyyah or quality of oneness implying both meanings in Arabic. Al-Samad, a most difficult term to render into English, implies eternal fulness or richness which is the source of everything; it refers to Divine Infinity, to God being the All-possibility. The last two verses emphasize the truth that God in His Essence is both above all realtions and all comparisons. The chapter as a whole is therefore the revealed and scriptural counterpart of the metaphysical doctrine of the Divine Nature as it issues from the inner revelation which is the intellect.

There is, however, one more statement in this Quranic chapter with which in fact the other chapters of the Quran also open and which is related to the third aspect of the Divine Nature referred to above, namely goodness. God is not only absolute and infinite, but also goodness and perfection. To use the Quranic terminology, He is al-Rahmah, mercy in Himself, and being mercy and goodness cannot but manifest Himself. The expansive power of the Divinity, which "breathing upon the Divine possibilities" manifests the world, issues from this fundamental aspect of the Divine Nature as goodness or mercy. That is why the Sufis consider the very substance of the universe to be nothing other than the "Breath of the Compassionate" (nafas al-rahman). If God is both absolute and infinite, goodness or mercy also reside in His very nature for as Ibn 'Arabi has said, "Mercy pertains to the essence of the Absolute because the latter is by essence 'Bounteous.'"

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Return to Tradition

Christian knocks at the wicker gate in The Pilgrim's Progress

The return to tradition is a wonderful stage in the spiritual quest of the contemporary seeker of truth and reality who is sensitive to both the beauty and diversity of revelation. It is an opportunity to examine yourself and find the fulfillment of your disposition and aspirations within one of the world's great orthodox religions.

Different people tend to approach this task in various ways. Some seek to rekindle an appreciation of that which is most familiar by returning to the faith of their parents or ancestors. Others seek fulfillment in foreign religions free from cumbersome prejudices acquired through negative experiences of the past. Some take a circuitous route of trial and error leading to discernment while yet others with a clearer goal in mind take the path of least resistance based upon the consideration of expediency. It is ultimately up to you to find your own way but it is always helpful to share your inquiries and solicit feedback from others who have previously passed through this stage or are currently traversing it themselves.

One of the most helpful guides related to this question that I have encountered is Some Thoughts on Soliciting and Imparting Spiritual Counsel by Marco Pallis which I strongly recommend to your attention. He provides remarkably intelligent and succinct answers to common questions proposed by seekers as well as various related considerations likely to arise along the way.

A useful preliminary consideration is that of accessibility. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, as religions of conversion with universal appeal and applicability to all people indiscriminately, are generally the most accessible to the contemporary unaffiliated Western seeker. This is not to say that other traditions are absolutely closed to the Westerner but rather that there are various social and cultural barriers that make those possibilities more remote.