Another remembrance

I am a recovering person in two different 12-Step communities, both outgrowths of the original Alcoholics Anonymous.  I have loved that path for many years, worked with it professionally and personally, and considered it an important adjunct to my own Sufi path.  I remember years ago when my life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, was introduced to this work, and said “Why it’s so much like Sufism it might as well be Sufism!”  Indeed, because this healing path is derivative of all the great esoteric systems of the world’s religions and is an inspired gift to those suffering from addictions and the effects of addictions in their families.  It is a simple path, simply followed.  One of its two founders, Bill W., said this is all it takes:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every [wo]man that s/he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that s/he trust in God and clean house.” (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Perhaps you are old enough to be familiar with my all-time favorite television series, China Beach. It’s about the Vietnam war (during which I grew up), and in our family we pull the discs out and watch them every few years, because we find the series to be profoundly moving, a meditation itself.  One of the main actors in it is Jeff Kober, who played Dodger. He’s a well-known actor and has been in many other things, but he also–interestingly–teaches Vedic meditation. I’m a committed meditator of many years, and I love the daily newsletter I get from his organization. In yesterday’s newsletter, he speaks of the interconnectedness of all being, and points out our constant opportunity to act from the standpoint of who we really are, or from our “mistaken” identities. He cites Alcoholics Anonymous as a good example of this (yes, he is a recovering alcohlic and addict). He says:

“There is a beautiful example of this in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The power of this twelve-step program is based in the singleness of purpose of the members of the program. All that matters is that everyone is trying to stay sober today. There is an acceptance of anyone and everyone, so long as they are willing at least to lend lip service to this common goal. The result is that a field of unconditional love is formed, in spite of the broken nature of the personalities involved, and all things that may work against this field of unconditional love are at least momentarily set aside. It is this field of unconditional love that lends alcoholics the ability to not drink, something that on their own was not possible. This is the ‘power greater than oneself’ that is necessary to overcome the power of the substance of alcohol.

This singleness of purpose is such a precious (as well as life or death) commodity that discussions of religion and politics, those subjects that can be most fraught with the danger of separation via difference of opinion, are by general consensus commonly avoided. People of wildly disparate political and/or religious views behave as brothers and sisters without ever a thought as to their differences. Of course judgment of others abounds, as it does in any gathering of humans, but it is not lent any credence. It is, in effect and in actuality, trumped every time by the common intention of everyone involved, and so the opportunity to heal remains available to anyone and everyone who chooses to seek it out.” (Jeff Kober, http://jeffkobermeditation.com)

It occurs to me that our common pain and bewilderment at the shock of this horrific earth plane of ours carries the opportunity to reach out to other parts of ourselves, simply because we eventually realize that all people are really just like us, struggling and weeping with the pain and injustice of living, doing their best to grow back into themselves. I have often said to newcomers in the other 12-Step fellowship I belong to “Yes, we’re all crazy here, don’t worry, no one will judge you.” And by and large, it’s true.  Jeff points out that in “the rooms,” as they are often called, judgment is inevitable, but “not lent credence.” (Kober)   In other words, gradually each of us learns to see ourselves in the Other, to mind our own side of the street while sharing compassion and solidarity.  Kober goes on to say,

“We, too, always have this as an option. At any time we have the power to set aside our individuality and embrace our unity. This field of unconditional love and the possibility of miracles always is awaiting us. It is in fact what we are in our deepest self. We simply must be willing to let go of the ideas of separation that stand in the way of our experience of it.” (Jeff Kober)

As someone who grew up with the “all is one” New Age rhetoric of what I sometimes humorously call the “Baba Ram Das Era,” it strikes me that in our common suffering, we are united in doing globally important work.  Just think: this is exactly what our search for wholeness means, because we can only find ourselves in other ourselves.

In this sense, our work affects all beings. Who knew?

If You Meet the Buddha in the Road . . .

A pivotal lesson for me, and a clarification of my impulse:

KrishnamurtiThe Renunciation of Jiddu Krishnamurti

As he began to distance himself from Theosophical teachings, he predicted that, “Everyone will give me up.” He began to call his experiences of the Masters “incidents” and described the rites of initiation as completely irrelevant to the search for Truth. “If you would seek the Truth you must go out, far away from the limitations of the human mind and heart and there discover it — and that Truth is within yourself. Is it not much simpler to make Life itself the goal … than to have mediators, gurus, who must inevitably step down the Truth, and hence betray it?”

In 1929 he dissolved the Order of the Star. At this point it numbered 60,000 members, managed huge sums of money, and owned tracts of land throughout the world, many designated for K’s future work. He was 34 years old.

Excerpts from his final speech follow:

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…. I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind; please understand this … If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth….

“This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth…. For 18 years you have been preparing for this event, for the Coming of the World Teacher. For 18 years you have organized, you have looked for someone who would give a new delight to your hearts and minds … who would set you free — and now look what is happening! Consider, reason with yourselves, and discover in what way that belief has made you different … in what way are you freer, greater, more dangerous to every society which is based on the false and the unessential?…

“You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else…. You have been accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what is your spiritual status. How childish! Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible?… I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free … from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself…. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.”
Few there were who could grasp this freedom, and, sadly, those who had warned the world for years that the coming of the Christ would challenge all existing systems seemed themselves unable to encompass that challenge when it came. The Theosophical Society was left in total bewilderment.

Krishnamurti never looked back. What he did he did with love and no trace of bitterness. The Truth that was growing in him was his only concern; the Presence that filled his being was his only guide. From that Truth came compassion for every living thing. From that guidance would emerge a teaching that cut to the root of the attachments that have crippled humanity for thousands of years.

K would live another 56 years. During all of these years he would teach — through his lectures, through his books, and through the schools he founded. Surprisingly, though most of his old friends fell away just as he had predicted, attendance at his talks did not diminish. In practically every year of his life, he toured the world. Rather than lecture he would “enter into inquiry” with his audiences, warning them not to blindly accept what he said but to look deep into their own hearts and discover the truth of their own being.  — from The pathless journey of Jiddu Krishnamurti by Bette Stockbauer, Share International Archives, http://www.shareintl.org/archives/Krishnamurti/k_bs-pathlessjourney.htm

Standing up, Standing Still

cropped-light

In these years of silence, there are times when I do find myself in a position of collaboration with others in organizational matters, and I find myself remembering something Murshid Shamcher Bryn Beorse said:  “God wanted to create Hell, so he invented the Committee”  (please read with a Norwegian accent!).   I suppose we all wonder what we, as individuals and as a world entity, are becoming, what is unfolding in our lives.  I suppose that it is inevitable that we would, on all paths and on no path.

The question was asked, recently, what are we Sufis are doing about the Environmental crisis.  For me, the question—and the possible answers—struck at the very heart of the kinds of questions I feel those of us on a spiritual path ask ourselves and feel obligated to answer.  I am a member of the Sufi Order International.  It is an esoteric school, it is a spiritual organization, it is an educational institution, and it carries out its work on various exoteric levels, too, primarily publishing and disseminating the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and his predecessors and successors on this Sufi path.  It seems to me that as individual members in this particular order, we all choose which part of these various functions we will emphasize, yet I am inclined to feel that the original—and ultimate–focus of our work is the contemplative practice, and through that mode, the dissemination of the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and those who have come after him (including ourselves as we grow in this work).  In other words, I see this Sufi order of mine primarily as an esoteric school.

A few years back, I heard a recording on YouTube  of a talk given by a well-known Islamic scholar and social activist, speaking to a “Young Muslim Student” organization in California.  He said humorously:

 
One of the problems that we are having is that many people want to have
a revolution.  We want to have an economic revolution.  We want to have
a political revolution.  And we need that, but the system is broke.
It’s not working.  It can’t work.  But we’re trying to have that
revolution without doing the necessary heart revolution, the
transformation that is required of us individually and collectively as a
community.

“You get the flip side of that too.  I’ve got my lovely Sufi friends who
are the sweetest, kindest people in the whole world, and you’re like,
‘Ya know, there’s half-a-million people  starving in East Africa.  It’s
terrible [mutes voice into whimper]. ” I’ll go do a dhikr for them [muted
sob].”  [audience laughter]  Like, ‘Good, good…AND?’ [audience laughter]
‘We’re told there’s been a million Iraqis who have been wiped out. ” I’ll
go to my prayer chamber and put on some candles and incense [pause] and
do a meditation.’ ”  ‘Good…AND?’  In their reflection and outer action,
these two have to be linked up together.

I’ve been kind of brooding about that since I heard him say it, first of all because it was clear from his tone of voice that he was kind of poking fun at what he calls “American Sufis,” and second because, well, I thought that “dhikr thing” he refers to WAS supposed to be important, maybe the most important thing we, as Sufis, offer to the planet, in the spirit of the rishis and contemplatives and adepts of all religions.  Recently, I was looking through Inayat Khan’s teachings for something on another topic, and as often happens, I found a passage that speaks to this.  He is speaking, here, of the universal sound, Hu, the sawt-e-sarmad as it is spelled in the text, and how through long practice, one becomes an instrument of that Sound that evokes the divine Reality:

The sound Hu is most sacred; the mystics of all ages called it Ismi-Azam, the name of the most High, for it is the origin and end of every sound as well as the background of each word. The word Hu is the spirit of all sounds and of all words, and is hidden under them all, as the spirit in the body. It does not belong to any language, but no language can help belonging to it.
This alone is the true name of God, a name that no people and no religion can claim as their own. This word is not only uttered by human beings, but is repeated by animals and birds. All things and beings exclaim this name of the Lord, for every activity of life expresses distinctly or indistinctly this very sound. This is the word mentioned in the Bible as existing before the light came into being: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God’.

The mystery of Hu is revealed to the Sufi who journeys through the path of initiation.  The more a Sufi listens to sawt-e-sarmad, the sound of the abstract, the more his consciousness becomes free from all the limitations of life [emphasis my own]  The soul floats above the physical and mental plane without any special effort on man’s part, which shows its calm and peaceful state; a dreamy look comes into his eyes and his countenance becomes radiant; he experiences the unearthly joy and rapture of Wajad or ecstasy. When ecstasy overwhelms him he is neither conscious of the physical existence nor of the mental. This is the heavenly wine to which all Sufi poets refer, which is totally unlike the momentary intoxications of this mortal plane.
A heavenly bliss then springs in the heart of a Sufi, his mind is purified from sin, his body from all impurities, and a pathway is opened for him towards the world unseen. He begins to receive inspirations, intuitions, impressions and revelations without the least effort on his part. He is no longer dependent upon a book or a teacher, for divine wisdom – the light of his soul, the Holy Spirit – begins to shine upon him.

‘I, by the light of soul, realize that the beauty of the heavens and the grandeur of the earth are the echo of Thy magic flute’. (Shefir)

It seems to me that sometimes we are in danger of forgetting why we came to the spiritual path in the first place.  On the deepest level, I don’t think this is really a danger, because the contemplative path doesn’t draw people who are ultimately inclined to be distracted, but I do think that in the moment, when we are asking ourselves what we, as member of any spiritual entity, are accomplishing,  whether our growth is sufficient, whether we measure up to the other “New Age” groups which category we are mostly relegated to by the world of organized religion, we may momentarily forget why we really came to these teachings that, for most of us, are so different from what we grew up with, in this culture, at least.  We may form too many committees, and and in our fervent need to disseminate our spiritual understanding, may over-translate, over-disseminate, forget the role that silence plays in every word that wants to be spoken…and in so doing, create more chaos than harmony.  Does the current world crisis hunger more for words and emotions, petitions and political movements, or is Hu  the answer?  Both, no doubt.  All of these things have their place, and all of us have our paths.

Speaking only for myself, it seems important not to forget to be quietly powerful, growing like a blade of grass, as well as smashing through obstacles that appear to hinder the unfoldment of the planet, working through our minds and emotions, and always trying to look “spiritual” in the eyes of the world.    It has been said that the world is upheld by the silence of rishis in caves in the Himalayas, by monks and nuns in solitary cells, by prison ashrams and everyday contemplatives, by those who remain silent and inactive in order to support and feed the world soul.  Perhaps it is the development of the silent heart that leads to that Ultimate Sound that destroys and heals creation in good order.

To all those “who, whether koan or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”  Inayat Khan

Life Being Lived

CLF - Olmstead Parks

And yet, though we strain

against the deadening grip

of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery:

All life is being lived.

Who is living it, then?

Is it the things themselves,

or something waiting inside them,

like an unplanned melody in a flute?

Is it the winds blowing over the waters?

Is it the branches that signal to each other?

Is it flowers

interweaving their fragrances,

or streets, as they wind through time?  — Rilke

Recently I received, from a well-known academic and Muslim here in Chapel Hill, a blanket criticism of American Sufis, pointing out that “we” do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, but veil our understanding within the bias of  “our” Western capitalistic world view.  He gave, as an example, Deepak Chopra who, he says, charges $5,000 for a weekend seminar.  The implication is that real Sufis are not materialistic, and do not practice the kind of engaged spirituality he believes is the correct way of life for a true Sufi.

Well.  Where do I start?

First of all, I wasn’t aware that Deepak Chopra bills himself as a Sufi.  Second, I was not aware that he is an American, but I will admit I do not know, because his words do not attract me, nor does his being.  Third, I object to blanket statements about any group, particularly from a noted academic who ought to be capable of more critical thinking.  Finally, I am not aware that the practice of Sufism means that one is “this” or “that” or holds a particular world view . . . and I find it astonishing that someone who is supposed to be an “expert” on such matters would make such an irresponsible statement.

As for me, I just sit on my porch and watch the birds and listen to the trees.  It seems to me that the trees know where they stand, and the birds refuse to favor one position over another, and thus they demonstrate, for me, the meaning of the word Allah.  I will say one thing about “we” American Sufis:  sometimes we can be rather naive and uninformed about the Islamic framework in which Sufism has become known to the Western world, but it seems to me that such constructs are really only the “basket that carries the flowers,” and I think the essence is available to us all, regardless of our station in life or our political views or our geographic location in space and time.  I was reminded, recently, by my new favorite book, Physicians of the Heart (see below) that the word Allah is derived from the Arabic verb waliha, which means to love passionately, intensely, totally:   “crazy love.”

That’s it.

The teacher who brought me up told stories about the rishis in the Himalayas, the Desert Fathers, the Yogis and the Madzubs, the Chassids, the contemplatives of all the varied ways to illumination  who refuse to “join the club (or the “old boys’ network”),” those ones who refuse to believe the lies, those ones who hold the world up in space, who keep it spinning, wobbling, staggering along because they say Allah . . . and leave “them” to their devices.  And Allah is a name that can be called in many, many ways . . .

Let us not forget:  in the Al and La of Allah are the words yes and no.  The rest is just excuses.


The highest good is like water.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.

No fight: No blame.  

Tao te Ching

Thoughts on Thoughts

“Yet there is a process to this extinction, a meaning to this annihilation. But this is not for the fainthearted, nor for those who want to abide in the bliss of the Self, to remain in the intimacy of union. Those who have paid the price of “fana”, who have gone beyond the illusions of the ego and watched every identity be burnt away by longing, can remain in the circle of love, living and witnessing His oneness. But there is a doorway beyond that chamber of the heart. This is the doorway of non-existence, where a cold and brutal wind blows away even the secrets of oneness. Its color is black because it has no color. This primal emptiness has a power and vastness beyond anything that is created, and it destroys everything that ever existed. It is the real home of the mystic, of the one who is “lost in the company of those who are lost in God.”  ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee in “Fragments of a Love Story” p. 35f

 

Somehow, I have missed reading the works of Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a well-known teacher of Sufism and mystical topics, also billed as a Jungian theorist.  Recently, I have come across several excerpts of his writing, and they make me curious.   As I have already remarked, I have read very little of his writing, but what I do read seems to be fraught with predictions of doom and gloom, annihilation, darkness, and fear.  They seem intent on challenging the seeker, predicting dreadful ending for us all, and making it clear that he is an authority on such things.  It is true that coming to realization has the effect of bestowing a level of confidence one didn’t have before, and if the receiver of these gifts is sincere and committed to the treasure s/he seeks, it can be a natural thing, inspiring to the one who encounters it.  But I simply don’t understand the motivation to terrify the reader into jumping off a cliff of Vaughan-Lee’s creation.  It seems to me that what he says, while true, is not said in the context of what really IS, but is offered in stark contrast to what is usually unknown until one reaches the point of willingness and readiness to take the leap into the void he so loves to speak of.  Mystically speaking, it is generally understood–and it seems to me that this is true–that in God there is no such thing as time, time being a marker that we need to indicate change.  Thus, does the reader of such words understand that being–and being IN GOD–is a system of becoming and nonbecoming all at once?  What is the point of jumping up and down and saying, in effect, “Yah, yah, I’m braver than you are, you don’t know what I do…..”  like a bully on a playground, challenging and pointing the finger?  It is a mystery to me, but I do know for sure that L. Vaughan-Lee seems to preach his sermons with an intention that I am not at all sure is healthy…to him or anyone else.

I took this quote and these pictures off a Facebook page, and thank Sura Diane Sheldon for them.  Accompanying the quote were a number of WONDERFUL pictures:

 

 

As someone who tries to facilitate knowledge when I can, I would be inclined to show my student the above picture, as compared to scaring them to death with talk of voids and darkness before they can be properly understood and contexted.  Here’s another:

 

My point:  can we not go gently into that good night, escorted by the poets and the artists and the others who have come home to True Love, rather than doomsaying and challenging?  I suppose it’s all a matter off taste, but don’t look for that here.

I believe in the night.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.

You, darkness, of whom I am born–

I love you more than the flame

that limits the world

to the circle it illumines

and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations–just as they are.

It lets me imagine a great presence stirring beside me.

I believe in the night.  –Rilke, Book of Hours

The Beautiful Names

 

At the end of a crazy-moon night
the love of God rose.
I said, “It’s me, Lalla.”

The Beloved woke. We became That,
and the lake is crystal-clear.  –Lalla


They say there are as many different kinds of Sufis as there are Sufis, and I’m sure that’s true, given the nature of Sufism, which is such that it isn’t really a religion at all, but focuses its work on the inner meaning of all religion.  Yet there do seem to be a few central contemplative practices that are common to most if not all Sufis (and Buddhists and Hindus and well, the contemplatives of all the esoteric schools!).  The one I want to try to do justice to here today is the practice of wazifa, which most Westerners know as the term mantra, the repetition of a sacred name or phrase in order to develop the inner life and unfold particular sacred qualities inherent to the soul.  The wazifa works on many levels, not the least of which is its particular psychology, a psychology that strikes me more deeply as I research the Beautiful Names in Arabic, a language so beautiful that it is said to be the language that will be spoken in Heaven when and if we get there.  It does indeed have an extremely high vibratory quality to it, as does Sanskrit; and although I had originally been taught the Sanskrit mantras, when I became initiated as a Sufi and began to work with the Arabic wazaif (plural), I was hooked for eternity.  I’m not enough of a scholar to know which other languages have this vibratory quality, although I’ve seen hints of it in many languages, including Hebrew;  but these two seem to be the ones that work best for me.

The Sufi Order in which I am an initiate, and the various Inayati orders that are descendents of the ancient Chishtia school of Sufism, is both an interreligious organization and an esoteric school.  It is non-hierarchical in theory, but in actuality those who know more on various topics try to help those who know less, often changing places as necessary.  Many of us have a guide who works directly with the initiate on behalf of the teacher who is our link in the Silsila, the chain of illuminated beings who link with us and draw us back into pre-eternity, at the same time propelling us into post-eternity, whatever that is–through the promise we make to ourselves when we decide to come home to who we actually are.  But what does that mean in terms of the work we are doing in the world?  That looks like a very nitty-gritty process at the outset, but the more I hang out with this process, the more I see that it is all about the unfoldment of that promise, and what looks like a smelly, messy, cacophonous and chaotic world soul is also an exquisite symphony, a divine flower unfolding in the sun.  And it is the Beautiful Names that allow me to dwell in this understanding, to the extent that I Remember.  For a basic list of them, go here, to Wahiduddin’s wonderful site:  http://wahiduddin.net/words/99_pages/wazifa_practice.htm  There, you can find a list, and the basic meanings, as well as a great deal more information about Sufism, if you are interested.  Yet what I find is that these basic meanings are but springboards.  Pir Vilayat used to give these practices and teach his students how to make use of the sounds they invoke in the various spiritual centers that rise up the spine and connect the body with the higher realms of the psyche:  the solar plexus, the heart center, the crown center, etc.  He also used to suggest archetypes that embodied various of the Names:  Maryam, peace be upon her, for the divine purity (Subhan Allah), for instance, or the archangel Ophiel for Noor, the uncreated Light.  But those examples are kind of “out there,” and the wazaif can address very practical issues, too, such as the need for more power (Ya Malik,  Allahu Akbar) or the evocation of Beauty, Ya Jamil.  Of course, it must be said that to experience a quality such as beauty or power in its highest form is just that:  one must go beyond preconceptions into the true meaning of the quality, and thus the wazifa works in the psyche–soul–to reveal what is latent, and further, allows one to apply that quality to real life situations.  Magic!  If repeated with sincerity and diligence and openness.  Openness to the mystery, as Heidegger said. . .

I have been focusing on my inner work very intensely in recent months, and the more I “research” these Beautiful Names, the more I realize what a profound psychology they are for the unfolding personality and the progressing soul.  One might, through the advice and help of one’s guide, choose to work with not just one, but two wazaif, providing a point and counterpoint for the focus of what wants to unfold.  An example might be Ya (the “ya” simply means “O”) Muh’yi and Ya Mu’id, briefly defined as the divine Quickener and the divine Restorer.  The words are the springboards:  to evoke Muh’yi,  the Quickener, that aspect of God that brings things into being, makes things happen, is to go to the Source of the Water of Life.  To evoke Mu’id, the Restorer, is to return to one’s original condition, that of the divine Child, prior to the desecration the soul undergoes living on the earth plane.  Ya Rahman and Ya Rahim, the Compassionate One and the Merciful One, evoke both the divine kindness as well as the suffering God undergoes in taking on limitation in His creatures in order that the universe might unfold as it wants to.  These are but a few of what seem to be the true psychology of the soul.

Ultimately, the practice of wazifa ought to lead beyond the intent to find the quality in the personality to finding out how that quality as a condition of God manifests through the personality.  In other words, it is God–the central Self–that seeks to utilize the soul of humankind as a manifestation of divinity.  I wrote, awhile back, on another central practice of the Sufis, the dhikr.   The difference between the repetition of wazifa is that wazifa is how God is, while dhikr is the very being of God, beyond qualities.  Inayat Khan pointed out in his writings that the soul can be seen as the breath of God exhaled and inhaled, and I suppose the divine qualities–the Beautiful Names–are that exhalation, in the condition of Being.

We are not just a discreet entity but we carry the whole, the totality of the universe in us potentially.  –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

To truly experience the divine qualities, one seems to need to undergo a sort of death, or so it seems at the time. . . yet like the Fool in the Tarot, we fix our eyes on the beyond and leap into the chasm and find. . . Life.