Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hardened Hearts vs the True Life

frozen “water of life” like the hardened heart
“Your True Life,” Rumi’s poem for the day, begins: “As you start to walk out on the way,/ the way appears” (Dec 26 in Coleman Barks’ A Year with Rumi).
     A big step for me (and I suppose for most everyone) involves personal embodiment of “career,” a term whose etymology appropriately points toward “road,” “racecourse,” or “wheeled vehicle.” Today’s “true life,” for better and worse, comes not just in walking, but in riding and racing. 
     My teaching career culminated in a course, Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice. I loved teaching it, the class limit of 60 persons always filled, and it usually had a wait list of over a hundred. After teaching the course about fifteen times over the past six years, I’m still pondering the essence, the primary aim, and the secret.
     As 2017 wanes down to its close, while in my first year of retirement, I’m walking my way into more understanding and appreciation of Good Stories and True Life. This week, “the way appears,” in part, through a Christmas gift book from the top of my wish list, Hafiz and the Religion of Love. Leonard Lewisohn (who edited the book) articulates “the language of the invisible” and the almost impossible, although crucially vital, task of integrating “mythopoesis” into the “mental furniture of modern man.” His explanation of this aim resonates so tellingly with my experience of Good Stories.
“Albeit immanent in popular consciousness, most of Hafiz’s mythopoesis—his language of analogy and capacity for thinking in symbols—is no longer part of the mental furniture of modern man. The aesthetic premises of his poetry are incomprehensible within the conceptual framework of modern anti-art movements such as surealism, minimalism, abstract expressionism or ‘pop’ art, for the principles of his spiritual vision, being heart-based and focused on presential knowledge (‘ilm-i hudhuri), are completely alien to the presuppositions of the modern materialist society of the West. . . The central aim of the chapters in this volume is to enable contemporary Western students of classical Persian poetry to reconnect with that lost symbolic universe and hopefully re-initiate themselves into the mundus imaginalis of Hafiz and the entire galaxy of Persian poets who spoke his ‘language of the invisible’. . . In modern literary studies and critical theory, especially in the contemporary West, the vertical purport and spiritual import of his symbolic imagery by and large are deliberately neglected, and the esoteric doctrines and metaphysical teachings inspiring his verse are treated as irrelevancies.” pp. xxi-xxiii
     About the same time (around 2007) when Lewisohn and colleagues were drafting and presenting their conference papers that turned into Hafiz and the Religion of Love, I was developing the Good Stories course. If I had been able to articulate it, my central aim could have been worded as Lewisohn powerfully phrases it: “to reconnect with that lost symbolic universe and hopefully re-initiate themselves into the mundus imaginalis.” Perhaps it’s just as well, because if I had included those words on my course proposal the chances are pretty good that it would have been rejected by the university’s course approval process, “treated as irrelevancies.”
     Recent political events prove to me the consequence of our failure to nurture spiritual vision, heart-based knowing and caring. The sober intellectual lacks the capacity to counteract the ego-centered dystopia because cold rationalism fails to offer sufficient attraction against sensual materialism. In a strange way, the tavern and the house of love (primary images in Hafiz and other classical Persian poets) show closer affinity for the path to God than the strict legalistic rigidity cut by fundamentalist religions. Because approaching God surpasses human mind and body, the metaphysical stretch found in symbolic expression has to be called forth.
     Without this nurturing, the imaginal world disappears. Without mundus imaginalis* we lose the courage, vision, and strength to engage in social justice; these qualities are essential if we are to repel the self-centered tyrannies from within ourselves and from others. In language carried by the scriptures and prophets of our major religions, this loss can be related to the “hardening of the heart.” Teachings on this topic are abundant and a few samples follow:
* In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, statements about God hardening the heart occur at least fourteen times. The prime case involves Pharaoh dealing with the plagues. 
     If it’s God who hardens the heart, we wonder: Are humans absolved of moral responsibility? What if we do not wake up and “walk out on the way”? Are we freed from responsibility to teach the discernment between good and evil?
* Persons who are exploring the “hardened heart” explain the human part:
“When it says that the Lord made Pharaoh’s heart hard, the meaning in the internal sense is that Pharaoh himself made his heart hard. . . The evil that is attributed in the Bible to the Lord actually has its origin in human beings.”
* From an Islamic perspective, we find the responsibility to “soften our hearts.”

     In my view, the hardened heart relates to the failure to compose and engage the mundus imaginalis.* A person with a hardened heart has limited or no access to the eye of the heart and sees instead through the rational mind with a consciousness dominated by ego, the power drive, and materialism. The capacity for imagination (for a person having the hardened heart) has been corroded by sensationalism featured in media that are driven by gratuitous sex and violence. Imagination has been polluted. The higher calling demands that we continue to purify, resurrect, and re-create.
     Spiritual teachings have hardly been remiss in stating clearly that humans are wrong to place too much value on material possessions. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” How could it be put more plainly?
     When persons have hardened hearts and do not feel the problem in accumulating money in order to buy bigger houses, faster cars and phones, and other forms of instant gratification, a wake-up call may be in order. If “love” has deteriorated to getting applause, being admired for display of wealth, and feeling better than others (sexism, racism, superior-religionism, etc.), perhaps God has to harden the heart so that it can break before death ends the opportunity to bow before the Divine. If persons cannot see discrimination, hate, and ego-centered acts as opposed to God’s will, then the mirror of their heart might be shown in a ruler dominated by ungodliness. That seems to be the classic Pharaoh story, timeless, acted out once more.
* For elaboration on mundus imaginalis, see Henry Corbin
For example, he says: 
"At the beginning of each narrative, the visionary finds himself in the presence of a supernatural being of great beauty, whom he asks who he is and whence he comes. Essentially, these tales illustrate the Gnostic's experience, lived as the personal history of the Stranger, the captive aspiring to return home. (from p. 2)
As a result of internalization, one has moved out of external reality. Henceforth, spiritual reality envelops, surrounds, contains so-called material reality (from p. 4)

We realize immediately that we are no longer confined to the dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology restricted to the empirical world and the world of abstract intellect. Between them there is a world that is both intermediary and intermediate, described by our authors as the 'alam al-mithal, the world of the image, the mundus imaginalis: a world that is ontologically as real as the world of the senses and that of the intellect. This world requires its own faculty of perception, namely, imaginative power, a faculty with a cognitive function, a noetic value which is as real as that of sense perception or intellectual intuition. We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with "fantasy", and which, according to him, is nothing but an outpour of "imaginings". " (from p. 5)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Looking out

 looking out the window with gratitude, facing west on Dec 18
Love God and keep the commandments (e.g., Deut 7:9*). Note the “and.” 
     Sometimes a vital doorway into life-more-abundant opens through re-reading; this requires letting go of previous interpretation/s and allowing a reincarnation to come into being, sometimes in a flash and other times much more slowly. To read “love” especially deserves frequent re-reading because it’s “many-splendored,” mercurial, sometimes shape-shifting with great speed and other times so slowly. In order to progress in living love, Paul suggests we advance beyond talking and thinking like a child (I Cor 13).
     I’m wondering if my spiritual life gets closeted, cutting off breath, by a semi-conscious belief that love for God enacts by (that is, “equals”) keeping commandments. While the linking term (“and”) might rarely mean “equals,” it usually points to something else. Of course keeping commandments is right and good, but I think that’s not enough when love is getting minimized. And I’m pretty sure that commandments can be followed without love. Responding to the voice, “Do it because I said to!” comes to mind.
     This blunt version (Love God by keeping the commandments) may be needed for childlike understanding; but, importantly, a more mature statement adds: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your [mind and] heart and with your entire being and with all your might" (Deut 6:5); re-stated in the gospels, "And He [Jesus] replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect)." (Matt 22:37, Amplified Bible Classic Ed.). 
     These scriptures stand out because they capsulize an essence. Ecclesiastes 12 expresses the heart of the matter similarly: 
All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man. (Amplified Bible Classic Edition).
     These pondering have been prompted in part because I’ve been wondering about the “eye of the heart.” Once again, Rumi (Mathnawi, Book V, line 1103, Nicholson’s translation**)
هست آن پیدا به پیش چشم دل  ** جهد کن سوی دل آ جهد المقل (But) that (difference) is manifest to the eye of the heart (spirit): exert thyself, advance towards the heart (spirit) with the exertion of one whose means are small.
     I’m surprised by the results shown on my computer screen when I enter “eye of the heart” because it immediately shows a book title by Frithjof Schuon: The Eye of the Heart. As mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve been reading in his book The Transcendent Unity of Religions but didn’t know of the one titled “The Eye of the Heart.” In searching another of his books on my shelf (Gnosis: Divine Wisdom), I find:
When Christ—in renewing the Law of Sinai, which he came to “fulfill” and not to “destroy”—teaches the love of God, he distinguishes between “heart”, “soul”, “strength” (Torah: “might”), and “mind”; this “love” thus excludes no faculty that unites with God, and it cannot be merely one term of an opposition, as when love and knowledge confront each other. If by the word “love” the Torah and the Gospel express above all the idea of “union” or “desire for union”, they make it clear by the adjectives that follow that this tendency includes diverse modes in keeping with the diversity of man’s nature; hence it is necessary to say, not that love alone draws toward God, but rather that only what draws toward God is love. (p. 83)
     Coleman Barks chose for today, December 18, from Rumi one he titles “What Is Love? Gratitude.” The poem concludes: “Don’t ask what love can make or do./ Look at the colors of the world./ The riverwater moving in all rivers at once” (A Year with Rumi). 
 looking out the window facing east a few days ago, with gratitude

* Deut 7:9 ISV “Know that the LORD your God is God, the trusted God who faithfully keeps his covenant to the thousandth generation of those who love him and obey his commands.”
Eccl 12:12-13 ISV: “There is no end to the crafting of many books, and too much study wearies the body.  Let the conclusion of all of these thoughts be heard: Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is what it means to be human.”
Qur’an 2:165 “But those who believe are more ardent in their love of God” and see the commentary in The Study Qur’an. See also Q 3:31 and commentary.

** Line 1103 can can be seen online: . For expansion of the “heart,” see also the preceding section, especially around line 1065. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

“and He is with you”

Perhaps a particular book falls open anywhere
to strike the perfect match for the intended person
igniting the moment of illumination, perhaps.

But would Book Five of Rumi’s Mathnawi pour
the “illimitable fountain”* without the preparing four,
flowing within; as if all books burn, the truth return?

Else the rider, already seated on the horse,
asks, “Where is the horse?” A person thirsts
though knee deep in the stream. An oceaned pearl 

in search of the sea. Bewildered of God,
the only direction remains wonderment.

* In Nicholson’s translation, about line 1072 of Book V. 

When desire burns too low, the fire goes out. Tending the spirit depends, essentially and finally, on that variant of desire called love, ineffable, beyond-words, breath-stopping, a consuming fire that burns off all the external inauthenticities because to know oneself is to know one’s Lord. [See, for example, Chapter 1 in Al-Ghazali’s Alchemy of Happiness (Claud Field’s translation, pp. 17-23).] 
     When motivated by external forces (such as the condition often characterizing graduate school’s assigned readings), it’s easy to develop the habit of skimming a “Preface” or just skipping ahead entirely to get to the real chapters in a book. While that’s the way I used to read twenty years ago (truth be told, grad school was closer to fifty years ago), now I’m drawn to giving close attention to the introductory material, especially when a book is being revised after a span of time. A good preface reveals contextual particulars needed if an individual is to absorb and appropriate the teaching across the external to the internal. 
     For example, Carl Ernst gives a Preface to the 2011 Edition in his book Sufism (published in 1997 as The Shambhala Guide to Sufism). He says the book has found a home among diverse readers and speculates it might be because it “illustrates the tension between the outsider and insider approaches to understanding religion” and adds “What is offered here does not pretend to be an esoteric revelation” (p. xii).
     Maybe I was in the next sentence or paragraph when I realized that something had clicked. Except it wasn’t a “click” or any other sound but more like a scent or a slight breeze easily missed or a sense of resolution. It’s a subtle sensation that I’ve come to hold in high regard. Maybe it’s a visitation or a knowing in the heart instead of added head-knowledge that’s isolated from the more integrated knowing in head/body/spirit. Anyway, I paused to reflect, to look back, and to wonder. 
     Perhaps the offering involves a more articulate discernment. I’m a person who thrives on the fusion of not-yet-connected, almost smoldering, bits of meaning; my work/play space looks littered with books on spirituality, horsemanship, folklore, mysteries, poetry, and more. Any additional clue that guides to the treasure is more than welcome. 
     That’s what came in. If I were to put the gift into words, it would say something like, “Listen, bud, you should be able to recognize which of these books is dedicated to the inner journey. Don’t waste time with ones that focus on the outer stuff. Pay attention because some are tricky and use esoteric terms, but they don’t really know what they’re talking about.” 
     Sometimes words fail the test of personal experience. Remember the three levels of certainty (hear about, witness, and live it). Push for that fire-tested truth. Thresh out the non-GMO grain from the fake and the chaff. And remember the risk of drowning in books. Always be on alert for a sign to put all books aside and fall into wonder.
     Certainly the languaging that the mind brings to experience can advance understanding and can sometimes power future action, but thinking can also be imperious and can shut down other knowing, especially from within, from the "eye of the heart" (also in the passage from Book V). Having been humbled many times in the riding arena where “feel” for “true unity” knows far faster, more sure than thinking, my mind’s tendency to presume to dominate has been corralled a bit. Rather than attempt to force closure or containment, bewilderment, in a special tone, may be the homing signal.

Friday, December 1, 2017

While in Hafez’ Tavern

sunrise Nov 30, 2017
While in Hafez' Tavern

When I have an argument with God,
I go to my horse, to the ocean edge,
to leaping poetry of Hafez.

I won’t ride in a rage
but must settle the wild current
before risking the broken leg.

I won’t dive in the riptide
but listen for the turn, in fire,
making the red stain disappear,

The hot wine of stolen kisses
washing away desire, and I
am right into nothingness.

To read Hafez is to be drawn into the wonder of love’s abandonment, the paradoxical simultaneous double of passion: going beyond the rules of safe office chairs into the literalist lie, the fundamentalist sin while also drinking the blood-red love of that which surpasses human mind, out beyond “ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing.” It helps to read “Hafez’s Theology of Sin” and “The Way of Blame” (Lewisohn in The Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door: Thirty Poems of Hafez, p. 78). It’s to launch into “leaping poetry” where stanzas break free from being in control and thus allow one to taste divine intoxication without wetting the lips.  
This mystic wine helps me live simultaneously in and out of “Pray without ceasing” in my personal land of broken promises and the between world of a diivine power both All-Powerful and All-Loving, when the material world reeks of injustice, loveless power, and apparently indiscriminate death-dealling suffering. How else but to “sin boldly” and trust in mercy.

1. Leaping Poetry of Hafez. Robert Bly opens his book Leaping Poetry with a section called “Dragon Smoke” that begins “In ancient times, in the ‘time of inspiration,’ the poet flew from one world to another, ‘riding on dragons,’ as the Chinese said. Isaiah rode on those dragons so did Li Po and Pindar. . . a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.” In The Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door: Thirty Poems of Hafez, Bly and Leonard Lewisohn describe how the ghazals of Hafez work this way with the jumps that prompt our movement from one world to the other. It’s a style that invites controversy and the confusion that sometimes marks the tidal edge of a surge in consciousness. One of the ghazals they translate ends “The grace of the teacher is often stained with rebukes” (p. 21). James R. Newell shows the diversity and even disagreement in translation of Hafez in the comparison of 8 versions of the same ghazal and samples from twelve publications:
     My interest in Hafez and Rumi and in leaping poetry builds especially from the potential to dispel barriers to peace that often show up in ideas connected to differences in religion and that are used to justify war, oppression, and superiority. Daniel Ladinsky (The Gift, p. 32) translates Hafez:
I have learned so much from God
That I can no longer call myself
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.

Those lines echo Rumi who lived about a hundred years before Hafez. Coleman Barks in A Year with Rumi includes his version of a poem from Rumi’s Divan. It begins
Ah, true believers, what can I say?
I no longer know who I am
Not Christian or Jew or Moslem
Not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen
(p. 371)
2. out beyond ideas. Coleman Barks uses this phrasing in his version of Rumi. (See p. 36 in Essential Rumi. Also shown in ).
The complexity and perplexity of the beyond-mind space is elaborated by Ibrahim Gamard & Rawan Farhardi (The Quatrains of Rumi) and translated as “‘place’ beyond the world of belief and unbelief” (p. 407. No.1314 & 1315). They further discuss the complex notion in a reference note (#154 on p. 665) where they describe this space as “a state in the mystical journey where the presence of God’s Reality is so evident that mental concepts about belief or unbelief can seem irrelevant.” Gamard and Farhardi also note that “A dervish who realizes the limitations of outward religious forms is not supposed to stop required religious practices, such as daily prayers…” 

3. Surpasses human mind. See Ephesians 3, especially verses 17-19:
17 aso that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being brooted and cgrounded in love, 18 may have strength to dcomprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and eheight and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ fthat surpasses knowledge, that gyou may be filled with all hthe fullness of God.
4. Pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17.

4. sin boldly. Martin Luther. “Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon.” Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: _Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften_ Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.
13."If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly--you too are a mighty sinner.” (Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, "Luther's Works," American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282) 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Outside and Inside

I’m still wondering about developing “vision" that can move from the bare branches and dead leaves to the living root, wondering further about the possibility of an advanced capacity involving imagination to “see” through here-and-now branches into a vision of past and future seeds and flowers.** One step in building this capacity must involve detachment from the surface. It’s like plumbing deep in search of the “water of life.” It’s driving deeper than satisfaction with or indulgence in the immediate zing, the allure of fame, the look of money. It’s discipline to go past immediate gratification toward health instead of sugar high, intimacy beyond sex; it's sacrificing status for destiny and accepting longing as a sign of being on the path.  

Vision and imagination support generativity; these connections may advance understanding resurrection and probe the meanings of “die before you die.” Reading further in Frithjof Schuon’The Transcendent Unity of Religions, I’m fascinated by his exploration “Concerning Forms in Art” (Chapter 4). Schuon illustrates specifically with the “decadence” of religious art involving the change from “sacred, symbolical, and spiritual” into the “individualistic and sentimental” (p. 63). 

“When art ceases to be traditional and becomes human, individual, and therefore arbitrary, that is infallibly the sign—and secondarily the cause—of an intellectual decline, a weakening, which, in the sight of those who are skilled in the ‘discernment of spirits’ and who look upon things with an unprejudiced eye, is expressed by the more or less incoherent and spiritually insignificant, we would go even as far as to say unintelligible character of the forms” (pp. 62-3).
The connection between art and the spiritual journey looks vitally important.

For me, although the meaningfulness of this remains substantially inarticulate, the movement from branch to root as well as from nature to art points to the capacity of Beauty to guide us toward the Divine. Such vision is invaluable and not automatic. 
  • Invaluable: A human’s intuition, tasting, and composing of beauty provide a bridge between worlds. When Beauty is known as a quality of God, we can see our pathway as we engage capacity of discerning sacred art.
  • Not automatic: Finding and building the bridge depend significantly upon the gift and development of the human’s ability to see and to feel beyond the superficial.
In the passage just cited, Schuon notes the extra-development in the clause: “in the sight of those who are skilled in the ‘discernment of spirits’ and who look upon things with an unprejudiced eye.”

Rumi tells of this vision and capacity. Nicholson reworks sections from his translation of Rumi’s Mathnawi into a collection of poems. One of these is extracted from Book IV, beginning in line 1358; Nicholson titles the reworked version, “The Truth Within Us” (p. 47 in A Rumi Anthology). These lines tell of a Sufi sitting and meditating in a garden with eyes closed. He gets confronted by a person who urges him to open his eyes and “behold these Signs of God” evident in the garden. The Sufi responds that he beholds the signs within because “without is naught but symbols of the Signs.” Rumi explains that the external world consists of images similar to an orchard being known only as reflected on the surface of water. The “eternal Orchard abides unwithered in the hearts of Perfect Men.” **
As I look in the woods and gardens generously nurturing our home, I wonder about the signs and about the inspiration and direction given through the perfecting heart. Neal Robinson’s contribution to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers assistance on the capacity to have vision: 
“Here Ibn al-'Arabi's idea seems to be that the cosmos as a whole—the totality of existent entities—manifests all the divine names but does so in a diffuse way, whereas man, as a microcosm endowed with consciousness, brings them into sharp focus as a unity. Potentially every man is a microcosm, but in practice men differ in their polishing of the cosmic mirror, with only a select few realizing their primordial nature. These are the prophets and saints, all of whom belong to the category of 'the perfect man' (al-insan al-kamil). They alone assume the character traits of God, which are latent in all human beings, and manifest them in perfect equilibrium.”
It seems that all spiritual pathways call for cleansing in order for humans to see God’s signs and not just symbols of Signs. The image of the mirror with its tendency to cloud over, to distort and misrepresent, points to the limitations of forms, including religious rituals, that lose the power to link the worlds. Without purification, this world covers over our vision of our source and destiny. The mode for cleansing might come through a sweatlodge, baptism, and varied acts of repentance/remembrance. The Bible’s book of James, for example, tells that “pure and undefiled religion” relates to cleasing the heart and to keeping oneself unspotted from the world. 
The cleansing removes veils, allows a passage to open. In his note below Rumi’s “The Truth Within Us,” Nicholson gives “an early parallel” from “the legend of Rabi’ah.” 
“One day in spring-time she entered her house and bowed her head. “Come out,” said the woman-servant, “and behold what God hath made.” Rabi’ah answered, “Come in and behold the Maker.” 

** Perhaps this wonder stirs from the beauty disclosed in nature, in this case, the woodland “garden” viewed through my window. The specific case probably opens toward the creative process. R.W.J. Austin notes the “pairs of concepts essential to the understanding of the creative process, such as universal-individual, necessary-contingent, first-last, outer-inner, light-darkness, and approval-anger.” This quotation comes from Austin’s introduction to “Chapter 1. The Wisdom of Divinity in the Word of Adam,” from his translation of Ibn al‘Arabi’s Bezels of Wisdom. That chapter especially addresses the construct of “Perfect Man” or al-insan al-kamil which is vital to the passage from Rumi cited in this blog. Austin’s introduction to this chapter also elaborates the vital metaphor of the mirror. Further teaching about al-insan al-kamil can be found in Music of the Soul (Sidi Shaykh Muhammad Sa'id al-Jamal ar-Rifa’i as-Shadhuli), especially in “Adam” (pp. 158-165) and in “Secret of the Love of God” (pp. 171-175).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Eve

Breezy morning, November 22, 2017
Rumi says, “[The thought of sorrow] scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order that incessant green leaves may grow” (Mathnawi, V, 3680, Nicholson trans.). Four lines earlier, we are admonished to penetrate beyond the material world and to go on past the immediate emotional response in order to see the beneficence of our Creator: “Every day, too, at every moment a (different) thought comes, like an honoured guest, into thy bosom.” This guest arrives every moment and so we have to welcome the full range from joy to blah to nonsense (better taken as not-yet-sense), even into loss, like yellowed and falling leaves, like a diagnosis of cancer, a child's addiction, a loved one moving on. . .
We are urged to “see” beyond the bare branches, cling not to emptiness nor despair, but find certainty in the root: 
“Do not say it is a branch: take it to be the root, in order that thou mayst always be master of thy object of desire;    For if thou take it to be (merely) a branch (derivative) and pernicious, thine eye will be waiting to see the root.    Waiting to see is poison to (spiritual) perception [literally: taste]: by that method thou wilt remain perpetually in death” (lines 3704-6). 
Rumi delivers a strong teaching. In the previous blogI noted three levels of certainty. It’s harder to trust in the third level, like seeing the root and not waiting at the eye-level until a surface sighting is shown. When sent a guest, at least for a person capable of spiritual discernment, Rumi says to stay at the first level (Eye of Certainty) is dangerous, poisonous, deathly.
I spend time looking at the autumn woods. The golden tones are beautiful; the opened spaces draw me further in. 

       The fallen tree that stood at least 75 feet into the sky now rests amid the 3 inch sprouts of oaks. Through our deeper visionwe know the decomposing leaves and the fallen tree flow into the roots underground. May we live in trust so that the moments of pain similarly feed our souls.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sure Good?

My take on “certainty” might be undergoing transformation. For sure, I get confused about conviction. Early on came the pain of disillusion over the loss of confidence in passionate preachers. Later dealing with life taught coping with relativity and tolerance for ambiguity. A recent blog featured Carrie Newcomer’s lyric of the travel “from certainty to mystery”; and while I like that a lot, it seems I’m being challenged to reach a certainty within mystery. For example, Rumi says “knowledge is inferior to certainty.” What kind of certainty thrives outside knowledge? When is being sure good?
     Perhaps when consciousness shifts so does the nature of certainty. Maybe the sense of being certain takes on a different tone, like a reformulating of the relative mix among knowing 1) by cognition, 2) by feel, intuition, and/or “gut,” 3) by emotion, and x) inarticulate/unnameables. Certainty might also be affected by qualities such as 4) joy and 5) passion. I use different ones of these when trying to read a person or a text, with a high level of certainty, concerning whether he/she/it is telling the truth, and especially whether to trust. The world has abundant lies in service to the Master Liar, Satan; gaining discernment can serve to advance walking toward God instead of going other ways.
     Given the import of this topic, it’s not surprising that material I’m drawn to read amplifies the theme. For example, Martin Lings’ Book of Certainty recently found its way from the “saved for later” into “Buy Now.” Lings opens: “In every esoteric doctrine there are references to three degrees of faith, and in Islamic mysticism, that is, in Sufism, these three degrees are known as the Lore of Certainty (‘ilmu ‘l-yaqin), the Eye of Certainty (‘aynu ‘l-yaqin) and the Truth of Certainty (haqqu ‘l-yaqin).” He illustrates the three degrees in relation to Moses and the burning bush: hearing about it (Lore), seeing it (Eye), and “being consumed by it and thus becoming one with it, for this degree belongs only to the One” (Truth).
     Hardly a day goes by that I’m not reading something from Rumi. Near the end of Book 4 of his Mathnawi, we find the line quoted earlier: “For in the tested Way knowledge is inferior to certainty, but above opinion./ Know that knowledge is a seeker of certainty, and certainty is a seeker of vision and intuition./ Seek this (difference between knowledge and intuitive certainty)” [Nicholson’s translation, lines 4120-]. In this passage, Rumi also references Q102:1-5. On page 1556, The Study Quran elaborates on Rumi’s lines as well as on the material cited from Lings, and the commentary brings in another favorite writer, Ibn ‘Arabi:
“Most Sufis see the knowledge of certainty, the eye of certainty (v. 7), and the truth of certainty as the three levels of spiritual development. In this respect the knowledge of certainty can be likened to knowledge obtained through hearing about something, the eye of certainty can refer to knowledge obtained by seeing or touching something, and the truth of certainty can refer to sapiential knowledge obtained by tasting, or experiencing something directly. In his Makkan Openings, Ibn ‘Arabi says that the truth of certainty is what is obtained through knowledge of the direct cause, the eye of certainty is what is provided by witnessing and spiritual unveiling, and the knowledge of certainty is what is provided by an indication (dalil) in which there are no obscurities (Futuhat, II 132. 27-29). Basing his words on the famous saying, “He who knows himself knows his Lord,” he further states that “one who witnesses himself witnesses his Lord and thereby moves from the certainty of knowledge to the certainty of the eye; then when he returns to his body, he returns to the certainty of truth from the certainty of the eye, not to the certainty of knowledge” (Futuhat, III 390.1-3; cf. 2:42; 3:71).”
     The Study Quran adds to this theme with its commentary on Q27:7-8 which states “[Remember] when Moses said unto his family, ‘Verily, I perceive a fire. I shall bring you some news therefrom, or a brand, that haply you may warm yourselves.’ Blessed is the One in the fire, and the one around it.” The commentary elaborates:
In Sufism, this verse symbolizes the levels of certainty envisioned as progressive stages in the spiritual life: (1) having conceptual knowledge of the fire, (2) seeing that fire, and (3) being burned or consumed by it symbolize (1) theoretical knowledge about spiritual matters, (2) direct vision of spiritual realities, and (3) the realization attained when the substance of the soul is transformed by being consumed by the Truth.
As this material meanders around and within me, a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians comes to mind: “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:19-21, New King James Version). It seems that if I aim at “sure good” I’ll need a “death” or “annihilation” in relation to the law, and this might connect with a loss of certainty in legalism or literalism, and this would be followed by a rebirth in another level, such as living in the path of Love and Truth.
Returning to Rumi, the dimension of Law receives further treatment. In Nicholson’s introduction to the fifth book of the Mathnawi, he notes that when composing it Rumi “was approaching his seventieth year,” close enough to my age, maybe even furthering the connection I feel with the amazing text. Rumi’s Preface to Book 5 continues the wandering and pondering on this elusive theme.
This is the Fifth Book of the Poem in rhymed couplets and the spiritual Exposition, setting forth that the Religious Law is like a candle showing the way. Unless you gain possession of the candle, there is no wayfaring; and when you have come on to the way, your wayfaring is the Path; and when you have reached the journey's end, that is the Truth. Hence it has been said, “If the truths (realities) were manifest, the religious laws would be naught.” As (for example), when copper becomes gold or was gold originally, it does not need the alchemy which is the Law, nor need it rub itself upon the philosophers' stone, which (operation) is the Path; (for), as has been said, it is unseemly to demand a guide after arrival at the goal, and blameworthy to discard the guide before arrival at the goal. In short, the Law is like learning the theory of alchemy from a teacher or a book, and the Path is (like) making use of chemicals and rubbing the copper upon the philosophers' stone, and the Truth is (like) the transmutation of the copper into gold. Those who know alchemy rejoice in their knowledge of it, saying, “We know the theory of this (science)”; and those who practise it rejoice in their practice of it, saying, “We perform such works”; and those who have experienced the reality rejoice in the reality, saying, “We have become gold and are delivered from the theory and practice of alchemy: we are God's freedmen.” Each party is rejoicing in what they have.
    Or the Law may be compared to learning the science of medicine, and the Path to regulating one's diet in accordance with (the science of) medicine and taking remedies, and the Truth to gaining health everlasting and becoming independent of them both. When a man dies to this (present) life, the Law and the Path are cut off (fall away) from him, and there remains (only) the Truth. 
Rumi "A Door" 
   I have lived on the lip
 of insanity, wanting to know reasons, 
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside.      
          [p. 352] 
   "Inside the Rose" last line:
  God's secret takes form in our loving.   
[p. 356, Coleman Barks' version, A Year with Rumi.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Foggy Steps in the Path of the Heart

About thirteen years ago my son left this world. The passing brought grief, anger, depression, despair, and life changes. Slowly, never completely, the memories turned from torture to treasure, not entirely. While heart breaking, the loss gradually brought along an increased presence, a visitation, even inner openings for spiritual guides, perhaps the one some call a "new heart.” The unsettled presence prompted contemplation, and the restless questioning led to readings such as Rabbi Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, further into his Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, and on from there in this continuous searching. 
The questions around the realities of pain, death, and evil drive humans from and to the Reality of God, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and All-Loving. While I accept the short answer that as human I must surrender the presumption to know the mysteries of God because they far exceed my comprehension, I also feel spiritual guidance wants to move on into the Mystery in a path of love. For this travel, humans need guides that lead beyond human mind; and I find guidance in nature, with natural horsemanshipin friendship, dreamsprayer, and spiritual verse. 
My restlessness is regularly attended by reading from the almost-endless library related to the big questions. Currently, the edge of longing finds support for the next step in Frithjof Schuon’s Transcendent Unity of Religions, a text that would have made little sense without having read in Henry Corbin and before that William Chittick (e.g., Sufi Path of Loveand all along translations, versions, and commentaries on Rumi. I’m not attempting to prescribe a roadmap for anyone else but suggest that there are scaffoldings toward greater peace. Pain, despair, and addictive avoidance are not the end.
For me and I suspect for most everyone else, the journey goes by the path of the heart, discerned by the individual, with each next step coming through the fog, sometimes after wandering awhile, stumbling. It’s not thought out but is felt by likeness, trued by experience. The tonalities of love vibrate differently; the key of a faith journey differs from one of reasoned explanation. Yet it’s not cut off from the mind. I couldn’t manage to engage the dense text of Schuon without developing some hermeneutical acuity;  but the finding of good stories and spiritual verses happens through recognizing resonance and moving by likeness more than by following a manual and literal application.
      Corbin’s articulation of the imaginal world allows further entry into Schuon’s esoterism. These expansions build the space that’s needed if we are move in the heart-journey. The teachings allow me to absorb more of Rumi’s unveiling of the spirit guide as like unto Moses:

Without hunger the body makes no movement (towards God)…./ Though it weep and wail most piteously, it will never become a true believer. Take heed!/ It is like Pharaoh: in (the time of) famine it lays its head before Moses, as he (Pharaoh) did, making supplication;/ But when it has been freed from want, it rebels (once more)… What wonder (then) if the spirit does not remember its (ancient) abodes, which have been its dwelling-place and birthplace aforetime,/ Since this world, like sleep, is covering it over as clouds cover the stars?—/ Especially as it has trodden so many cities, and the dust has not (yet) been swept from its perceptive faculty,/ Nor has it made ardent efforts that its heart should become pure and behold the past;/ That its heart should put forth its head (peep forth) from the aperture of the mystery and should see the beginning and the end with open eye.

[Mathnawi, Nicholson trans., Book 4, from lines 3623-3636] 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Social Media, Spinning Lies, & Whirling Dervishes

droplets of light
“Stories move like whirling dervishes,” Elif Shafak concludes her magnificent TED Global 2010 talk*, “drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity.” Shafak credits her grandmother (clearly the model for her powerful character, Auntie Banu, in The Bastard of Istanbul) for impressing on her the power of circles: “If you want to destroy something in this life, be it an acne, a blemish, or the human soul, all you have to do is surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside.”  In the novel, Shafak compellingly moves us into compassion for persons who are caught in the walls of lies with their layers of distortions and destructions. 
The stories we tell, to others as well as to ourselves, believing them or not, must be clean if we are to avail ourselves of their healing properties instead of abandoning them to act as destructive forces. Our best stories tell the truth; their circles draw our imagination toward advancing consciousness and civilization.  But, of course, stories can also spread lies; and then, as Shafak warns, we risk damage to the soul. Lying separates oneself from the inner essence and, since they are so interconnected, also from one’s life-affirming work outside in the world. Participating in lies takes so many forms: fake news, denials, avoidances, screens, cover-ups, escapes, absorption in past or future, addictions, on and on.
Participating in social media presents perhaps the latest battleground involving this manipulation of reality. According to recent reports, in the 2016 presidential campaign, a third of the U.S. population likely received Russian-backed fake news through Facebook.
“Underscoring how widely content on the social media platform can spread, Facebook says in the testimony that while some 29 million Americans directly received material from 80,000 posts by 120 fake Russian-backed pages in their own news feeds, those posts were “shared, liked and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation.”
Although more guarded in use, I continue actively viewing and posting on Facebook and to a lesser extent in Twitter. As anything that is powerful, social media can be used negatively as well as positively.  Rather than increasing isolation, I want to work toward global citizenship and to sustain world-wide friendships. My status updates on FB usually feature photos that witness beauty in the natural world; my camera’s on alert for views that glimpse, that invite wondering about other worlds, possibly that even guide us in composing our lives with more harmony and balance. Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
“Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. . . Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.” (p. 52)
With or without social media, we are individually at high risk for closeting ourselves in mindsets vulnerable to diseased thinking and feeling. As with physical health, early detection of infection is crucial. I believe that a vital step comes in sharpening the sense of the inauthentic. The most precious early-warning system lives in the soul, not in any news media, not even in friendship nor family nor religion. All those are very important; but because each individual has unique wiring to/from the Source, the ultimate test for truth comes within. To know oneself is to know one’s Lord.  And to do that we have to polish the mirror of the heart. Rumi teaches this over and over. I’m now reading in Book 4 of the Mathnawi, around lines 2881-2914. Here are some selections from Nicholson’s translation:
Does any painter paint [the beauty of the picture] for the sake of the picture itself, without hope of conferring benefits… from his picture (arises) the joy of children and the remembering of departed friends of their friends///the external form is for the sake of the unseen form; and that took shape for the sake of another unseen (form)./// even so (proceed), having perceived reasons within reasons, one after the other, in order thaty you may arrive… step by step…///those insights that are not frozen (dense and dull) are nothing if not piercing and veil-rending. He (such a one) sees with his own eye at the present moment that which will come to pass in ten years. /// Every one, according to the measure of his spiritual enlightenment, sees the things unseen in proportion to the polishing (of the heart’s mirror).///God alone is the giver of aspiration…God’s assignment of a particular lot to any one does not hinder (him from exercising) consent and will and choice. 
I believe we find much value in making our own versions of such texts. Here’s my work/play with the above:
When enthused by the beauty of the source, does any true artist intentionally compose primarily for the sake of the superficial layer while discarding the everflowing transcendent rays of light? The higher aim sights toward the joy of children and remembrance of love’s departures. Vision and memory track and trail the Unseen, reason unto Reason, living with abandon step by step. Each movement in trust rends another veil, dependent on dedicated polishing of the heart’s mirror.

*Note: Shafak is also featured in TED Global 2017.