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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Consciousness of the Real

As-salaam alaykum. It is impossible to adequately convey any realization in words because they limit, conceptualize, and superimpose themselves upon the experience. With this in mind, I would offer the following as an attempt.

The spiritual path as I understand it is a progressive unfoldment of consciousness of the Real. The Real is fundamental, permanent, and unchanging. What changes on the path is not the Real, but rather our own awareness that is presented within a series of veils which obscure the Real. Everything that we are presented with as a method, whether it be an anthropocosmic vision of man and the world, a doctrine concerning the nature of Reality, or a method of ascecis, devotion, or contemplative concentration, is an instrument intended to rend these veils. At the same time, everything that presents itself as an aspect of our identity, including our attachment to and identification with these very instruments, is also a veil.

It is in this context that the Maharshi asks, "Who am I?" and Ghazali states, "Therefore, thou must seek out the truth about thyself: What sort of 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 that lie?"

All revelations contain answers to this inquiry. In the Vedas, the mahavakyas:

Consciousness is Brahman (Aitareya Upanishad 5:3)
I am Brahman (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:4:10)
You are That (Chandogya Upanishad 6:8:7)
This Atman is Brahman (Mandukya Upanishad 2)

In the Quran, the shahadah:

“God bears witness that there is no god but He, as do the angels and the possessors of knowledge, upholding justice. There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.” (3:18)

And so forth in all of the scriptures of the world. We have the answers to our questions, but do we experience this reality, the unique reality, immediately within our awareness. Do we taste it? Do we experience that there is no we, that there is no he, that there is only I?

Like I said, words are very limiting, but this appears to me to be the essence of Advaita Vedanta ... and it is everywhere.

The Maryami Assimilation of Muhammad (as)

Within the Islamic tradition as a whole, the Prophet Muhammad and by extension the Imams within Shi'ism - may peace and blessings be upon them - are the premier foci of devotion whose remembrance is inextricably intertwined with remembrance of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad, as you are well aware, possesses not only a historical and personal reality, but also a cosmological and metaphysical significance within the anthropocosmic vision of Islam.

In my opinion ... within the context of the doctrine and method of the [Maryamiyyah] Tariqah as transmitted by Shaykh Isa, much of the significance traditionally and exclusively afforded to the Prophet Muhammad is assimilated into the person of Sayyidatna Maryam. There are several reasons for this which may be identified.

For instance, the Prophet is depersonalized through identification with the abstract principle of the Logos and the personal relationship with him is replaced to a certain degree by vicarious participation in Shaykh Isa's personal relationship with Sayyidatna Maryam who is also considered a feminine manifestation of the Logos. He experienced intimate tantric visions of Maryam and as a result believed that he, and by extension the entire Tariqah, had been blessed by her. He also produced numerous poems, litanies, and paintings inspired by her including a Maryami Wird ...

A second level of assimilation of the significance of Muhammad occurs through the spiritual identity of the faqir with the religio perennis within the context of the Islamic form. Under Shaykh Isa, fuqara were taught to emulate his functional identity with universal metaphysics and the religion of the heart while eschewing the limitations and prejudices of individual religious identity. As Maryam is considered the prophetic embodiment of the religio perennis while Muhammad is limited to the Islamic form, she is given a certain functional precedence as a result.

Within [certain branches] of the [Maryamiyyah] Tariqah, virtually all of the Maryami devotional elements have been rigidly excluded and something of the distinctly Islamic identity has been restored in addition to the emphasis upon the spiritual significance and centrality of devotion to the Prophet. Practically, the only Maryami elements that remain [in those contexts] are the recognition of Sayyidatna Maryam as something of a patron saint of the order bestowing a subtle emphasis on aesthetics, the optional recitation of the Salatu'l Maryamiyyah, and certain doctrinal expositions found in Shaykh Isa's texts.

Something of an answer to your question may be obtained by examining the role of additional litanies historically appended to the Wird within the Shadhiliyyah heritage. The role afforded to the Salatu'l Maryamiyyah within [the Maryamiyyah] has traditionally been filled by the recitation of the Salatu'l Mashishiyyah within the Darqawiyyah, a powerful litany in praise of the Prophet of which the former is derivative. Within the Alawiyyah by contrast, the Wird is preceded by the recitation of Surah al-Waqia.

Of course, [within the Maryamiyyah Tariqah] the Salatu'l Maryamiyyah is [considered] entirely optional, just as the special appreciation of a pre-Islamic Prophet is entirely a matter of personal affinity. I have always been specially attracted to the Prophet Idris, for example, but not in such a way as to detract from or even affect my profound love for Muhammad. There is certainly nothing to keep you from employing any of the other famous litanies that are part of [the Shadhili] heritage instead of or in addition to the Salatu'l Maryamiyyah such as the Burda of Al-Busiri, the Dala'il al-Khayrat of Al-Jazuli, the various litanies of Abu'l Hasan Al-Shadhili, or the aforementioned Salatu'l Mashishiyyah of Ibn Mashish. The Shadhili tradition is vast and beautiful and I believe that only good things can come from exploring it and connecting with it.

For a traditional Islamic Interpretation of Sayyidna Isa and Sayyidatna Maryam, see Mary of the Soul and Jesus of the Heart. For a thorough exposition of the Shadhili Heritage see The School of the Shadhdhuliyya Vol. 1 & 2.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Spiritual Elitism of the Spiritual Elite

"It is necessary, my dear brothers in the Lord, to give you a clear idea of the interior Church; of that illuminated Community of God which is scattered throughout the world, but which is governed by one truth and united in one spirit. This enlightened community has existed since the first day of the world's creation, and its duration will be to the last day of time. This community possesses a School, in which all who thirst for knowledge are instructed by the Spirit of Wisdom itself; and all the mysteries of God and of nature are preserved in this School for the children of light. Perfect knowledge of God, of nature, and of humanity are the objects of instruction in this school. It is from her that all truths penetrate into the world, she is the School of the Prophets, and of all who search for wisdom, and it is in this community alone that truth and the explanation of all mystery is to be found. It is the most hidden of communities yet possesses members from many circles; of such is this School. From all time there has been an exterior school based on the interior one, of which it is but the outer expression. From all time, therefore, there has been a hidden assembly, a society of the Elect, of those who sought for and had capacity for light, and this interior society was called the interior Sanctuary or Church. All that the external Church possesses in symbol ceremony or rite is the letter expressive outwardly of the spirit of truth residing in the interior Sanctuary." ~ Karl Von Eckartshausen

as-salaam alaykum. In your previous message you stated that one of the problems that you encountered in your experience with the Tariqa was the feeling of a distance or gulf between the fuqara and ordinary Muslims that you interpreted as a kind of contempt and which manifested as the too frequent distinction made between the exoteric and the esoteric.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly the limitations of language as one is somewhat forced to distinguish between a faqir and an "ordinary" Muslim even in formulating the question. However, the phenomenon of "spiritual elitism" is also a prevalent and even potentially inescapable problem within spiritual organization as such and it requires a certain effort of self-examination to avoid its pitfalls. I will try to shed a little bit of light on the subject.

The phenomenon of spiritual elitism arises any time a contrast is made between one group or perspective as having some mark of distinction or privilege over another. The most basic manifestation of this within religion occurs between the saved and the damned. A similar manifestation of this elitism is reflected within the perspective of exclusivity which is prominent within most religions. Even if the charge of satanic inspiration or manufacture is not alleged, and instead misguidance, distortion, or abrogation is posited in its stead, the same dichotomy and sense of self-superiority or privileged status of one's own religion is inculcated thereby.

Another form of implicit spiritual elitism occurs within the context of initiation which posits a distinction between the initiated and the non-initiated, sometimes referred to as the profane. As an example, Orthodox Christianity assimilated the initiatory framework of the Ancient Mystery Religions which takes the form of a succession of sacramental rites and an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even within the liturgy, the rite of transubstantiation is performed behind a screen to protect the sacred Mysteries from being divulged before the eyes of the profane (i.e. the uninitiated).

Within Islam there is only the one rite of initiation, the Shahadah of conversion, or two if we take into consideration the bayah (or khirqah) of Sufism. Both of these represent successive levels of status or privilege in relation to non-Muslim humanity. Subtly considered there is also an implicit ecclesiastical hierarchy within both of these dimensions for Islam makes a distinction between the Muslim, the Mu'min, and the Muhsin while Sufism correspondingly identifies the zahid, the abid, and the 'arif, among numerous other possible divisions and representations.

Some of the categories introduced by the traditional school tend to compound these already polarizing distinctions across religious boundaries. While in principle the notions of exoterism and esoterism refer to those aspects of religion that are outward and visible in contrast to those dimensions which are inward and spiritual, they are also sometimes applied to the consideration of the total reality of a tradition. In the latter case, exoterism is applied to the phenomenon of religion which is reduced to morality, sentimentality, and devotionalism, while esoterism comes to represent metaphysical doctrine and the sciences of realization.

The considerations of this subject can be continued in manifold directions and applications but the basic point should be evident, that the perception of hierarchical and qualitative value is implicit within all considerations of spirituality and organization. The real question seems to be what we make of it for ourselves as we are gradually exposed to or identified with these kinds of organizations. It becomes something of a subtle test of humility which has been very cleverly described by Schuon as "not to overestimate oneself and underestimate others" in this case by trying to evaluate oneself or others based upon our relative standing within an arbitrary schema.

There may be some within the Tariqah for whom their privileged status causes them to experience pride in themselves and feel contempt toward others, but I would tend to believe that they are the ones who really just don't get it, at least not yet. The very meaning of the term faqir (meaning "poor") as applied to the initiate is itself a powerful reminder of the qualities that may help us successfully navigate these encounters. My own poverty takes the form of a kind of beneficent jealousy or envy, if I may be indulged in such a contradiction. When I evaluate another person regardless of his formal spiritual status, I tend to see those qualities that I lack, and this reminds me how far I still have to travel spiritually. It is these interior qualities that, for me, constitute the true marks of status within the spiritual life, not the institutions which simulate them. Ultimately, I prefer to eschew all labels entirely and retreat into my fundamental identity as a simple "Muslim."

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Cable of Allah

And hold fast to the rope of God, all together, and be not divided. Remember the Blessing of God upon you, when you were enemies and He joined your hearts, such that you became brothers by His Blessing. You were on the brink of a pit of fire and He delivered you from it. Thus does God make clear unto you His signs, that haply you may be rightly guided. (3:103)