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, 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."

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