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.