First ~ Twenty-first Interrogations

 

TWENTY-FIRST INTERROGATION

Those who find the Mysterium Magnum will now what it is: but to the godless it is incomprehensible, because they have no desire to comprehend it. They are captured by the terrestrial essence and are unable to desire to know the mystery of God.

~~ Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)

Boehme was a German Christian philosopher.

We can translate this passage from Boehme, always a difficult writer, into contemporary terms.

The important phrase is “captured by the terrestrial essence.” For Boehme it probably meant general “worldliness,” the conviction that this material world is all there is and our task is to pursue the happiness and success, wealth and power, comforts and consolations, it offers. He probably thought of sins: lust, greed, gluttony, pride.

In our modern world, 400 years later, the “terrestrial essence” is essentially the same. We are “captured” by the consumer identity, by ads and commercials, the billions of images of happy consumers with which we are bombarded all our lives, by what has been called “commodity culture.” This culture really is, if we look at it objectively, the inflammation of gluttony.

And the interesting wrinkle that Boehme introduces is that this “capture” drains us of the desire to think beyond it. We are totally taken up, our souls possessed, leaving no room for the will or wish or interest to look further. We are unable, according to Boehme, to to enter upon a spiritual quest, because that appetite, the true essence of our hope and our humanity, the celestial appetite, has been pushed out by the ravenous appetite of worldliness.

Now this assault hits us all. We aere all targets and we’re all hit by an uninterrupted bombardment of unerring marksmanship. Does it work? Does the contemporary assault of worldliness and the commodity culture accomplish what Boehme claims it does, making us unable to “desire to know the mystery of God”?

This is a very difficult question to answer. The Wisdom Tradition, disagreeing here with Boehme, would argue that the celestial appetite, the longing to know God, to explore the Great Mystery, the Mysterium Magnum, is indestructible, being the very essence of our humanity, our theomorphic being, the imago dei: that it can be suppressed but never destroyed. On the other hand, if we examime contemporary life it’s hard to deny that shopping is where it’s at.

The Sioux Indians have a saying: May the Great Mystery make sunrise in your heart.

TWENTIETH INTERROGATION

Can earthly things seem important to him who is acquainted with the whole of eternity and the magnitude of the universe?

~~ Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman and philosopher.

Can they? Well, yes and no!

Cicero is making one of those many colossal sweeping Wisdom Tradition asserions that have to be qualified. Essentially true, demanding direct experience and offering the vision to be realized, but forgetting that most of the time we are simply dealing with the challenges of daily life, the responsibilities and moral demands, the “earthly things” that are indeed important, and not only in themselves but as a part of our spiritual practice.

How does it play out?

We have meditations and contemplative glimpses in which we are rewarded with realization of the Truth. We see “the whole of eternity” then, and earthly things not only gradually fade into unimportance but but disappear altogether, become something like a dream. We realize that they always were a dream.

Returning to the dream, we remember the Reality: a nagging secret, unforgettable, a refuge from pain and sorrow, an infinite glory, pure peace, and we come to live only for the return, the reentry into the Bliss from which the universe is perpetually born. We know what what we saw was the Truth and becoming one with It is the only goal of life.

So regular meditation, a glowing background to our daily consciousness, occasional feelings of consolation and bliss, solitary remembrance — in Islam, dhikr Allah — become central to our lives. We’ve discovered the strange, inarticulate and wonderful truth about human birth, and about the universe. The reliable contingencies of earthly life — setbacks, disappointments, loss, suffering in its infinite variety, even tragedies — lose something of their power over us.

And for some, a serious distinction between human affairs and untouched Nature begins to emerge. Human affairs seem precarious, inescapably tainted — with suffering, pretense, false values, false hopes and false fears, the certainty of seduction and betrayal — while Nature, where everything is pure because devoid of intentions, becomes increasingly a refuge, a Face of God. Peace.

For those who have become “acquainted with eternity,” as Cicero put it, life becomes truly rich.  Invisible courage, invisible dedication, inform their days.

 

NINETEENTH INTERROGATION

Man is a creature who has received the order to become God.

~~ St. Basil (330-379)

St. Basil was a Doctor of the Church and a founder of monastic institutions.

Basil was not alone in this challenging and bewildering assertion. It is the consensus of the Wisdom Tradition. Christ urged us to “be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Plotinus (205-270) wrote, “Our concern is not merely to be sinless but to be God.” And Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who died in 1950, claimed, “Of all the created things or beings of the universe, it is the two-legged men alone who, if they purify and humiliate themselves, man become one with — or may know — Wakan-Tanka.

The idea, “made in His image,” imago dei, is found in the esoteric teachings of all spiritual traditions. We are all already deiform, theomorphic, merely by virtue of human birth, and need only to “purify” ourselves — a procedure with very many and widely diverging interpretations — in order to realize the truth of what we are. (Basil didn’t have it quite right. We don’t become God, we already, in our essential being, are God, are divine.)

This is far out indeed, and nothing we need worry about. The “command to perfection” is heard and heeded by a very tiny minority of very deadly serious people. We have their testimony to the truth of the imago dei, and each of us, in our spiritual practice, may make of it what we wish.

This “command,” however, is the ultimate tantalizer in the spiritual world! Something to fantasize about, like being a world-class athlete, winning the triathlon,  a world-class chess player, snatching the title from the Russians, singing the main role in Don Giovanni, dancing the main role in a great ballet or rock musical, playing the piano like Bill Evans. “I want satori!” cried a contemporary Zen Buddhist teacher, early in his career, in unembarrassed desperation.

But we know, in the intuition of the heart, that heaven couldn’t really be interested in or impressed by our achievement. It’s sincerity, the “mother of all virtues” according to Islamic teaching, and difficult enough, that counts in spiritual practice.

And is noticed. And rewarded.

EIGHTEENTH INTERROGATION

Our innate nature is happiness itself, and we ever have it with us. But we do not realize it. On the other hand, we begin to seek for it elsewhere in the objective world outside us, just as a person who is ignorant of a treasure buried in his own house goes about begging. The world fascinates us only because of this ignorance. There is no doubt about it.

~~Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Swamigal, Hindu sage, died 1954

No doubt about it for the sage, maybe, but plenty of doubt for the rest of us! What is he talking about here? How might we go about finding, or at least searching for, this innate happiness, always with us? He obviously has in mind something more significant than an occasional episode of dreamy contentment or the conviction, always cautious, always alert to threats, of having achieved success in life. Something permanent, indestructible, invulnerable to contingencies, to the reliable and unpredictable blows of circumstance.

As a Hindu, Swamigal is talking about the Atman, the true or higher Self within us which is God. Realization of this Self, whose nature is bliss, attaining identity with It by emancipation from the lower self we think we are, the ego simmering with emotions, is accomplished in meditation. This Realization is the heart of the doctrine and the entire goal of meditation in the Hindu tradition. It takes a long time, years of practice by very serious and determined people — although there are always tales of rare lucky ones who, for no apparent reason, have experienced a vision without ever having head about the Atman. Don’t count on it.

Let’s forget about the doctrine, the years of practice, and the rare lucky ones.

Let’s address the simple idea of happiness, which the Declaration of Independence entitles us to pursue and we all do pursue, with fierce determination, even if we never read the Declaration of Independence. The argument of the Wisdom Tradition is that we never attain it in this world, in external circumstance, and the traces of it we do experience are fleeting, precarious, illusory and nothing in comparison with the Real Thing. In the words of Angelus Silesius (1624-1677):

                                                                 To call an object in the world sweet and lovely

                                                                 Is not yet to know the Sweetness that is God.

So: If you’re satisfied, really honestly satisfied, with what the world has to offer in the way of happiness, there you are! The claim of the Wisdom Tradition, that you are ignorant, deluded and missing out on the Real Thing, is irrelevant to you!

And on the other hand, if you are blessed by not being satisfied with what the world has to offer, if you can say with Romeo in Act II, “I wish but for the thing I have,” you’re ready to set forth on the Great Path.

SEVENTEENTH INTERROGATION

There is one Lord revealed in many scriptures.

~~ Saraha (2nd century Buddhist saint)

The Wisdom Tradition is unanimous in declaring all the world’s religions authentic. Each is a Path to spiritual realization, the goal of life. They are different only in their procedure. As Ramana Maharshi, the 20th-century Hindu saint, explained, “The goal for all is the same. Yet different names are given to the goal only to suit processes preliminary to reaching the goal.” As Isis, the Egyptian universal Mother Goddess, revealed: “My divinity is adored throughout the world, in diverse manners, in variable customs, by many names.”

And there is no measure of the blood shed in consequence of the refusal to acknowledge this truth. We all know the tragic story of religious warfare.

In a way, humanity can be forgiven; or at least we can understand the source of the error. There are two reasons why it has been and remains so hard for people to accept any religion other than their own as authentic.

First, each religion actually claims to be the One Truth. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” announced Jesus. “I am the Truth and the Joy forever,” announced Krishna. “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet” announces the famous Shahadah of Islam.

Second, in their external forms, their ritual, there ceremonies, their doctrines, the entire fabric of their presence in the world, the religions appear so utterly different from one another that it would seem impossible that all of them, or any two of them, to be “true.”

But this is as it must be. Every spiritual tradition must present itself as absolute, as Truth, because its claim, that it is the Divine Reality and the path to Salvation, is absolute, and no one would accept it otherwise. There is an inevitable and tragic consequence of diversity. Why then, we may protest, did heaven “do it” this way? Why doesn’t heaven offer one Path, one religion, for all?

We really aren’t competent to answer that big question, but Tierno Bokar (1875-1940), a Muslim saint from Mali, came as close as we are likely to get: “The beauty of the rainbow is due to the variety of its colors. In the same way, we regard the voices of different believers which rise from all parts of the earth as a symphony of praises on behalf of God who can only be One.” Heaven has a style! Inexhaustible beauty in infinite variety! A world with only roses? No violets, daffodils, tulips, buttercups, honeysuckle, heather, clover? Forget it!

Nonetheless, the tragedy of conflict unfolds as it always has. People blessed with the ability to see and love the truth of other religions than their own are rare indeed.

SIXTEENTH INTERROGATION

God can be known only by God.

~~ Theologia Germanica, XLII

The Theologia is a 14th-century text attributed to the Teutonic Order.

The idea here, and in countless other texts making the same point, is that the Divine Reality is beyond the reach of human comprehension.

How then can God be anything but a speculation? How can the existence of God be anything but an arbitrary gamble of blind faith? A hope, an inference from creation to Creator, a “mystical feeling”?

The Wisdom Tradition asserts that humanity, being deiform, “made in His image,” has within it a “spark” of the divine Light, God being compared to light; or a “spark” of the divine Love, God being compared to love; or a “spark” of the divine Truth, God being compared to truth; or a “spark” of the divine Bliss, God being compared to bliss; or a “spark” of the divine Peace, God being compared to peace. God is within us. Divinity is within us.

So in the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna, the Hindu Avatar of God, announces, “I am seated in all hearts.”

The apostle Paul, speaking for the Christian tradition, writes in a famous passage, “I live, yet not I but Christ lives within me.”

Attar, a 13th-century Muslim poet, writes, “Dhu l’Nun al-Misri said, ‘Real knowledge is God’s illumination of the heart with the pure radiance of knowledge,’ that is, the sun can only be seen by the light of the sun.”

We are urged to seek God within ourselves, to look within, to discover our Buddha nature or true Self and identify with it. The deiform claim, found in different forms in the different traditions, points us in the right direction.

In other words, “we” can know God by realizing our identity with the divine Presence within us. The claim of the Theologia is true. But it doesn’t leave us out in the cold. We know God through identity with God. “Our” knowing God is God knowing God within us. Total identity.

So how do we “look within”? There’s only one way. Meditation. Close your eyes, forget yourself, forget the world. Wait for silence.

Ohiyesa, a Sioux Indian, wrote, “The American Indian believes profoundly in silence… If you ask him: What is silence? he will answer: it is the Great Mystery! The holy silence is His voice!”

 

FIFTEENTH INTERROGATION

Wise people, after they have listened to the laws, become serene, like a deep, smooth, and still lake.

~~ Dhammapada VI, 82

The theme here is Peace. “The Peace that surpasseth understanding.” As we read in the Yoga-Vasishtha, an ancient Hindu text containing the teachings of the Sage Vasishtha to Rama, “There is nothing so lovely and enduring in the regions that surround us, above and below, as the lasting peace of a mind centered in God.” And in Psalm 76, “In Peace is My dwelling place.”

We usually, in this context, use the phrase, “peace of mind,” and regard it as a difficult but desirable goal. People say, sometimes in resignation, sometimes in anger, “I only want to live in peace.”

This is really a matter of the stages of life. The younger we are, generally speaking, the less interested we are in peace, which seems synonymous with boredom. We orient out lives, instead, toward the pursuit of excitement. “How exciting!” is a phrase we often hear. A successful person, in this view, is one who eagerly identifies and travels through a series of exciting situations, or, even better, “an exciting life.”

There’s nothing wrong with being young and pursuing excitement. It’s a stage of life in which we are not interested in becoming serene, like a deep, smooth and still lake.

But as we grow older, after we have had a good share of excitement, the teaching of the Wisdom Tradition, which once sounded so absurd and incomprehensible — that excitement is pain — begins to ring true. Excitement, enthusiasm, righteous indignation, being carried away by any emotion whatsoever, even overwhelmed by joy…forms of pain.

Not everyone experiences this metamorphosis.

Those who do, according to the Wisdom Tradition, are moving in the direction of the fulfillment of a human birth. That fulfillment is Peace and Peace is Bliss. We feel that the ego, which we thought we were, the self made of passions, the illusory self, is finally banished, that we have abandoned pain and come home at last to what we always were, and are one with the universe. According to Swami Ramdas, “The perfectly still mind is the Universal Spirit.”

In the words of Angelus Silesius (1624-1677):

                                                                    No one has ever attained to the grandeur or glory

                                                                    Of the soul who has established repose in its heart.

FOURTEENTH INTERROGATION

It behooves us to become ignorant of this worldly wisdom; rather must we clutch at madness. 

~~ Rumi (1207-12673)

Rumi was the great Sufi poet of Persia, universally regarded as one of the greatest writers of spiritual poetry in the world.

What is he driving at here?

Someone possessed of “worldly wisdom” is fluent and accomplished in the ways of the world, in how to acquire and achieve what the world has to offer. Worldly wisdom is the key to success, worldly people have “been around,” they “know the score,” they’ve seen through the facades and deceptions that characterize social transactions. They are sophisticated. They understand money.

Why would Rumi say we have to “become ignotant” of this kind of expertise?

Probably because its cultivation amounts to striving in the wrong direction, attaching value to things that pass away rather than to what endures. To the material rather than the spiritual, the fleeting rather than the eternal for which we are made, the mortal body instead of the immortal soul. Turning our backs on heaven.

Okay. This is a familiar point of view. “Lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.” But why is the alternative “madness”?

Probably because people who reject worldly goals in favor of invisible “spiritual” consolation, who choose only the bottom rungs of the ladder of success, are generally regarded as “out of touch with reality”: as foolish, childish, idealistic, eccentric and naive. They are oddballs. Nuts. Voluntary losers.

Or, maybe, viewed from their side, the oddballs are people who’ve seen through the glittering cust of worldly success, seen the emptiness within. And therefore those who believe in the rewards of worldly wisdom are the fools!

Can worldly wisdom and divine wisdom live comfortably together? Certainly. We have to get by. It would be a question of which one is closer to the heart. Would the world fall apart if it were not for worldly wisdom? Certainly this world would!

Al-Yafi, a Yemenite Islamic chronicler, reports:

“Ali ibn ‘Abdan knew a madman who wandered about in the daytime and passed the night in prayer. ‘How long,’ he asked him, ‘hast thou been mad?’

‘Ever since I knew.'”

Rumi was an extremist.

THIRTEENTH INTERROGATION

I will cease to live as self, and will take as my self my fellow creatures.

~~ Shanti-deva

Shanti-deva was a renowned 7th century teacher of Mahayana Buddhism. His decision here is unanimous in the traditions. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is often offered as a summation of the Christian teaching.

Gampopa, a 12th century successor of Milarepa, explains the profound spiritual insight here. It’s not simply a matter of charity, but of wisdom: that spiritual insight into the nature of things that is the gift and basic function of the world’s religions. There’s a reason why the spiritual aspirant should “take as myself my fellow-creatures.”

“Unless the mind be trained to selflessness and infinite compassion, one is apt to fall into the error of seeking liberation for self alone.”

Therefore, since the goal of the Buddhist dharma, or spiritual aspiration, is Emancipation, “Compassion is the esseence of the dharma.” The message is clear. The life of compassion and the Path to liberation are one.

So it’s simply “in the nature of things” that we always feel right, centered, at peace with ourselves, when we are doing something for others. Bringing a up of tea to a parent, driving a kid to school, helping someone out, speaking a calculated kind or encouraging word, giving someone a life… you name it. The world falls into place around us, into harmony.

In the Christian tradition, whose key words in the intuition of Christ are love, suffering, sacrifice and miracle, the equivalent to Buddhist compassion would be sacrificial love.

The claim in all this, of course, is Oneness. The wisdom tradition claims that behind the scenes, and despite appearances, we are all One. There is an invisible divine Oneness which contains us all. As Ananda Coomaraswamy, a 20th century teacher, remarked, “Enlightenment is the end of all otherness.”

And “otherness”, as we must confess, is what we feel all day long. We may have our moments, we may experience, in profound meditation or sudden flashes of insight, the divine Oneness: but it is to “otherness” that we always return. “Narrow as the blade of a razor is the Path,” we are assured in the Upanishads.

But so what? Be of good cheer! The Path was made for us, and we for the Path. It’s in the nature of things. Like compassion.

“Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:1)

TWELFTH INTERROGATION

The vision of God is possible only through His Grace.

~~ Ananda Moyi (20th-century Hindu saint)

The traditions are unanimous that all transactions between heaven and earth, between God and human beings, are at the initiative of heaven. In prayer or meditation we are not summoning a Divine Presence, or even petitioning it: we are trying to make ourselves receptive. We are awaiting Grace.

In case anyone doesn’t get it, Ibn Ata-illah, a Sufi saint from Alexandria who died in 1309, points out, “Rarely come Divine Intuitions except on a sudden, lest the slaves should claim them as a result of their preparations.” A device of God to assure that people don’t get the wrong impression.

And the traditions take it even further. We are told that even the desire to pray or meditate, entertaining the very idea of it, is a gift of Grace. Joining a yoga class, buying a religious text, asking someone about their spiritual practice, wandering on a whim into a temple, simply thinking about religion, death, mortality, the meaning of life, wondering about what it is all about and why we are here: all a gift of Grace. The initiative, the impulse, was an invitation from heaven.

An obvious question arises. Why doesn’t everyone receive the invitation? Why are there any atheists at all? Why are the traditions compelled to concede that some people are the victims of “invincible ignorance”? This is a very important question, because if the initiative is always from heaven, are we not forced to conclude that some people are blessed and some damned?

Although in the final analysis the answer to this conundrum is beyond us — “Mysterious are His ways” means just that and that’s that — one thing at least is clear, which is that environment must play an important role. People living in a secural culture are less likely to believe that there is any “heaven” from which to receive an invitation than people born into a religious setting.

And there has never been a more secular culture than the one we inhabit today. Secularization, the gradual inexorable invalidation of spiritual intuition, of transcendence, the claims of religion and of the supernatural in any form, inaugurated in the West in the Renaissance and coming into its own in the Enlightenment — what a riot that’s the word! — has been the very direction of world history. It’s in the air we breathe.

Some eastern traditions claim that an ever increasing diastance from heaven is the way cosmic cycles unfold. It’s also claimed that the psychic pain people suffer in the falling Darkness, the haunting sense of emptiness and desolation, the subterranean fear, will arouse in the human soul, given its indestructible immortal destiny, an increasingly desperate longing for the Light. Grace is never withdrawn.

ELEVENTH INTERROGATION

If ye trusted in God as ye should, He would sustain ye even as He sustains the birds, which in the morning go fiorth hungry, and return in the evening filled.

~~ Muhammad (570-632)

Muhammad, of course, is the Prophet of Islam.

The argument is confirmed in many places in the New Testament, especially in Matthew VI. And Swami Ramdas, speaking in the Hindu tradition, affirms, “The Lord is always good and full of love; He never abandons those who put their trust in Him.”

Can anyone actually believe this? Can anyone actually believe that there is a God watching over us and protecting us, taking care of us, intervening when we are in danger, an Infinite Benevolence overseeing the world?

Or that He would only conceren Himself with those who “put their trust in Him” — could that ever include children? — and abandon the rest to their fate? And are the targets of massacres and wars and atomic bombs and all the daily horrors inflicted by human beings, and the victime of earthquakes and floods and volcanic eruptions, usually called “acts of God”, ever seen to be divided into two groups, the faithless who perish and the faithful who are saved?

Let us not waste our time. The argument is so outrageously preposterous, so insulting to our intelligence and contrary to universal experience, such pure undiluted garbage, as to be beneath our consideration.

There’s an amusing retort to this absurdity within the Hindu tradition itself. A very pious man, as the story goes, having lived a life of unimpeachable virtue, toward the end of his days goes forth into the forest to build an altar where he may pray. Just as he finishes it a tiger drags him off and devours him. At that very moment a bandit wanders by, the perpetrator of innumerable crimes and atrocities. He seats himself before the altar and is instantly enlightened. There are similar ironic tales in other traditions as well.

But can God be redeemed in any way? Is there any sense in which God does care about us? Another way to approach the appeal to universal Benevolence?

For one, we might simply say that the faithful and faithless both have their paths, to which they are entitled, and the consequent quality of their lives. Faith in God is the heart of the matter here, and Faith by definition is a source of strength and peace invulnerable to rational argument.

But we might also hear the profound message in the most famous hadith, or saying, or the Prophet, speaking as God: “I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world.”

TENTH INTERROGATION

Thou shalt not siffer a witch to live.

~~ Exodus 22:18

In Maleus Maleficarum, a classic on witchcraft and demonology commissioned by Pope Innocent XIII in 1484 to help combat heresy, we read: “In the Church the devil prefers to operate through the medium of witches.”

We know, however, that there’s no such thing as a witch. Nor a “devil”: the Prince of Darkness, the Adversary, the Archfiend. We regard such beliefs as superstition, abject and unreasoning, and classify those who believe them today as “biblical literalists,” pathetically credulous, in the same camp with those who believe in the reality of ghosts, fairies and leprechauns.

The very urgent, and timely, question raised here is how we should read the Bible, a text whose authors had no doubt there were witches stalking and tempting the faithful, and also angels protecting them, and blandly accepted “as gospel” such miracles, to name two classic examples, as the parting of the Red Sea and Jesus raising the dead.

The authors of the Bible, who had no doubts about witches and miracles, also had no doubt that there was a God. The Bible was “the Word of God.” God was the Author, and if not, he employed human authors who were inspired by Him.

But if the quote from Exodus, like countless other Biblical citations, can be readily rejected as the superstition of ignorant people, what about the claim of these same people that there is a God? There can be no doubt in our time that the claim on that point is also being rejected.

A corrosion of religious belief, enormously complex but in its logic something like what has been briefly and symbolically traced here, is what actually occurred in roughly the last three hundred years in the West. Our culture, so it appears and so it has been claimed, has become, or is rapidly becoming, totally secular.

Okay. We might ask, “So what? To whom does this matter?”

The wisdom tradition would respond that it matters to everyone. That it is the One Big Thing that has happened to the entire human race.

NINTH INTERROGATION

The real hero is he who has subjugated his mind.

~~ Swami Sivananda (1887-1964)

Rumi, the great Persian Sufi poet, makes the same claim. “It’s easy to break an idol, very easy: to regard the self as easy to subdue is folly, folly.”

Now what do these two, and the entite wisdom tradition, have in mind here?

We can explore the claim on two levels: daily life, and meditation.

In our daily lives we are aware that we have very little control over the thoughts that pass through our minds, the “stream of consciousness.” It’s as if we have a mind inside us that has a mind of its own, something very much like another self. It raves, worries needlessly, repeats itself incessantly, flares out with accusations, anxiously rehearses and spitefully rehashes, thinks crazy thoughts. It’s the fountain of the passions, the emotions with which we instantly identify the moment they pop up. That’s bad enough.

But it also urges us to terrible decisions. It is uncontrollably impetuous, thoughtless, impulsive. It is incapable of lucid sobriety, of deliberating, reflecting, taking account of a larger picture, a context, relevant considerations, the ethical dimension. A lunatic counselor, devoid of compassion or prudence or mature judgment. It sees what’s right in frnt of it and responds with a knee-jerk reflex. Whenever we are swept away and obey its mindless commands, we live to regret it.

And it is the sworn enemy of meditation, the sworn enemy of concentration. This mind is the mind that wanders. Meditative practice calls for focus: focus in breathing, on a name of God, on a sacred mantra, on peace or beauty or compassion, on Emptiness, on a passage from the Koran, the Shahada or the Bismillah, on the form of an Avatar, be it Christ, Krishna, Siva or the Buddha.

In the Hindu tradition this “mind” is simply called “the lower self,” and it is this self that we must master. It is the mortal enemy of our spiritual aspiration. Its other name is the ego. The spiritual prerequisite of “self-mastery” is a recognition of this enemy within. It is not who we really are, not oue true Self, the realization of which is called Enlightenment.

So. In daily life don’t heed the lower self, just watch it go by. In meditation, however, we must master it.

Sivananda’s true heroes are few and far between. Just never give up.

EIGHTH INTERROGATION 

One lifetime spent in the quest for Enlightenment is more precious than all the lifetimes during an aeon spent in worldly pursuits. 

~~ Gampopa (died 1152 A.D.)

The sages are unanimous on this point. Enlightenment, or Emancipation, spiritual realization no matter how it may be defined, is the one and only fulfillment of human birth, in the same inescapable sense that the oak tree is the fulfillment of the acorn and the rose the fulfillment of the seed. 

Gampopa was a Buddhist. Saint Louis de Montfort (1673-1716), a Christian ecclesiastic, put it this way: “Know that the greatest things done on earth are done within, in the hearts of faithful souls.” 

Our immediate reaction is that these people are selfish. They think only of themselves. Spiritual pursuit, however—and again the sages are unanimous on this point—does not rule out action in this world, action on behalf of humanity. We can do both.

But we must always remember that there is no such thing as what is called “the accumulation of merit”! Good deeds take us nowhere on the spiritual path, because the Path is always within, an inner transformation, a direct experience, a realization of the divinity within us that is also the divinity of the world. 

The Hindu sage, Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), however, went even further, claiming that spiritual pursuit is not merely personal: “Realization of the Self is the greatest help that can be rendered to humanity. Therefore, the saints are said to be helpful, though they remain in forests.”

Now how should we think about this? How can someone meditating in a cave be helpful to humanity? 

By bearing witness. By reminding us in their example that there is something beyond this world and its transient ambiguous affairs, its hollow claims and urgent seductions, something permanent, eternal, real. As the Maharshi (which means “great teacher”) pointed out, “reformers have come and gone, but the ancient teachings still stand.”

But now consider this passage from Ansari, a Persian Sufi master and port who died in 1088:

                                                                                                            He who becometh aware of thee,

                                                                                                            What use hath he for life,

                                                                                                            For children, family, earthly things? 

In the words of an Arabic proverb that goes all the way, he would see the world as a caravan, and think: The dogs bark, the caravan passes.

SEVENTH INTERROGATION

All such precepts as define what is to be done, or what is not to be done, refer to divinity as their end.

 ~~ Iamblichus (d. circa 333 A.D.)

 Iamblichus was a leading representative of Syrian Neopatonism.

The idea here is clear: Iamblichus is claiming that all ethical decisions, moral choices, must be aimed at the attaining of a spiritual goal and consistent with spiritual teachings. Our behavior must be governed by our spiritual aspiration.

This also implies that any moral precepts not based upon or emerging from conformity with a spiritual tradition are false, or at least questionable. A sincere practicing Christian, a sincere practicing Buddhist, any sincere practitioner of a particular tradition, will refer to their tradition for guidance and justification.

What if, as if true of many people today, you have no tradition, no spiritual aspiration, no belief in a divine authority to which you may appeal for guidance? What if, for example, you are not a follower of Christ or the teachings of the Old Testament or the Koran or the Hindu dharma?

From the point of view of Iamblichus, your decisions would be arbitrary and unreliable, ultimately founded on nothing but willfulness. You would be, quite simply, by definition, a lost soul. 

Can we agree with this? Haven’t we inhaled the stench of this brand of dogmatic self-righteousness many times, and right up to today? 

Have there been no mistakes made, no crimes committed, no hypocrisies consummated, no injustices enacted, no horrors perpetrated, by followers of religions, and under the banners of their heavens?

And why do virtues have to appeal to traditional precepts? Why can’t love, compassion, the sense of justice and common humanity, stand on their own? 

Maybe there’s a way to resolve this. Maybe wisdom addresses only individuals. Maybe the argument of Iamblichus is valid only for individuals, for the simple reason that only individuals can actually be on a spiritual path and have spiritual realization as their devotion and their goal. 

And if wisdom addresses and can only be received by individuals, all so-called “religious wars” and “religious movements,” from the armies of the Crusades to the contemporary “religious right,” are misnamed and have no more claim to divine sanction than nations and political parties.

Heaven doesn’t see a church, a temple or a mosque. Only the worshippers.

SIXTH INTERROGATION

 Attachment to this world 

 Brings the soldiers back,                                                                                                        

Wandering over the battlefield. 

          ~~Seami Motokiyo (1375-1455) 

Motokiyo was a master of Nō theater, the classical theater of Japan. 

The wisdom traditions, acknowledging as they must that we find ourselves here on earth, and earth, a mixed bag ending in death, is not heaven, address the sad news this way:

This world is not where we fulfill the purpose of human birth, which is always some form of spiritual realization independent of our earthly circumstances. But, on the other hand, this world is a divine manifestation, and through appreciating its beauty we are glimpsing the divinity behind and within it. As Robinson Jeffers wrote, “His beauty is the signature of things.”

The first view, however, is always the one emphasized, sometimes ferociously, because the erroneous conclusion drawn from the second view—that this world is all there is and let’s make the most of it—is a fatal seduction.

The Truth of Suffering is the first of the Four Noble Truths in the Buddhist tradition. And this Suffering is not accidentally distributed but inherent in human existence. All revelations are addressed to a fallen humanity: to a situation in need of redress.

“And thus I escaped from the cycle, the painful, the misery-laden,” reads the inscription on a gold funereal tablet found in Egypt. Rumi (1207-1273), Persia’s great Sufi poet, compares our earthly lives, as we roam from place to place, scene to scene, to “the dice in backgammon.”

It’s often pointed out that the crux of our dilemma here is the inescapable experience of the “pairs of opposites.” Joy and sorrow, good and evil, alive and dead, north and south, past and future, kind and cruel, and so on forever: the antonyms in the dictionary. We are always negotiating between these pairs. They are the structure of the world. Their existence, their logical necessity—how could we talk about one without the shadow of the other behind it?—defines our lives and is the dynamic of our experience.

Whereas spiritual realization, where we “rise above” the pairs of opposites, is the realization of our identity with Oneness: the infinite ocean of peace, love and bliss which is nothing less than the divine reality of the universe.

But the soldiers, meaning all of us, bewitched by this world where we struggle to find an always elusive happiness, return to wander over the battlefield.

FIFTH INTERROGATION

Conceal your good deeds as you conceal your evil deeds.

~~ Rabia of Basra (717?-801)

 Rabia al-Adawiyya al-Qaysayyi was one of the great woman saints of Islam. 

How should we interpret her remark which has about it the tone of a warning? It disagrees with common practice and contradicts what seems to be plain logical common sense.

Our analysis, our explanation of our behavior—we’d hardly feel the need to call it a defense—would go something like this: 

We don’t conceal our “good deeds,” because there seems to be no need to deprive the community of benefitting from our good example, and we do conceal our “evil deeds,” not only because we have a right to defend our reputation, but also for the very good reason that public knowledge of our errors or failings or misdeeds serves no purpose.

How might Rabia respond?

As a renowned Muslim, she might fiercely retort, “Didn’t Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, Peace be upon him, say ‘Hide the good you do, and make known the good done to you’?”

And if she could have dipped into the future and heard the words of Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?), she might retort, “And didn’t your Eckhart say, ‘We are to practice virtue, not possess it’?” 

We might discern two thrusts in the arguments of Rabia, Ali and Eckhart. 

The first, originating in religious teachings, is simply the danger of egoism: the “inflammation” of the personal ego which, according to all the spiritual traditions, comes between us and spiritual realization, whether that realization is defined as Salvation, as in the western traditions, or Enlightenment, as it is defined in the eastern traditions. In the former the danger is the sin of Pride, in the latter the error is called Ignorance. In both cases, the virtue being denied is Humility. 

The second thrust originates right here in our daily lives, and it is very subtle indeed. It argues that any public knowledge of our daily lives, any public definition of our earthly performances, is a form of contamination. Why? Because God alone knows who we really are. It’s a question of where is the authentic tribunal. 

“Whatever gets praise from the world goes unnoticed in heaven. Whatever goes unnoticed by the world is kept in heaven.” A saying of the Sikhs.

FOURTH INTERROGATION

 To attain Buddhahood thus we must scatter life’s aims and objects to the wind.

                                                                          ~~ Milarepa (1052?—1135)

Milarepa, a Tibetan saint, is asserting here, in no uncertain terms, the necessity of Renunciation. We have to renounce worldly goals if we hope to attain spiritual goals. 

Why?

The immediate answer argues that worldly comforts and achievements are a deception and always betray us, providing only temporary happiness and inevitably sowing seeds of dissatisfaction, suffering and renewed pursuit, whereas spiritual life offers a peace and joy that never fade.

Why?

Because there are two realms in this universe, forever opposed to each other and mutually exclusive, and our devotion and commitment must choose between them. They are contrasted in many ways by the traditional vocabularies.

 How are they contrasted?

The temporal and the eternal, the finite and the infinite, the material and the spiritual, the mortal and the immortal, the unreal and the real, the profane and the sacred, the outer and the inner, the relative and the absolute, folly and wisdom, and so on and on. Christ spoke of Caesar or God: of laying up treasures on earth or in heaven, “for where your treasure lies, there will your heart lie also.”

That’s the way Milarepa saw things. This world is not a place of fulfillment, and a failure to understand that can only result in what Shankara, a renowned Hindu saint, called “that greatest of calamities, the waste of a human birth.”

 However, believe it or not, the traditions agree that this is not the last word.

 The tradition concede that there are two legitimate spiritual paths, the path of the householder and the path of the monk. The monk leaves the world, “scattering life’s aims and objects to the wind.” The householder practitioner lives in the world, fulfilling worldly responsibilities, but prays, meditates, practices the virtues of compassion, humility, charity, honesty, thankfulness, forgiveness, sincerity, generosity and sacrificial love, and tries never for a moment to forget the jewel in the lotus, the divine presence in the heart, the divine beauty of the universe, the divine source and destination of the human soul.

 And it’s been simplified even further. We are told that there’s only one thing in this world we need to renounce to attain enlightenment: the ego: “me.”

 THIRD INTERROGATION

 What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.    

                                                                                                                                                ~~ Chief Isapwo Musika Crowfoot                                                                                  

 Chief Crowfoot died in 1890. He was  a leader of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

 Nothing to disagree with here.  It is a poetic Native American statement of the brevity of life, a truth we acknowledge but usually prefer not to think about.

As Chuang-tse, a Taoist teacher who died around 275 B.C., put it, “There is little difference between what one calls a long life and a short one. After all, it is but a moment in the infinity of time.”

And as we put it, “Here today, gone tomorrow.”

No one argues with this commonplace. What is of interest are the conclusions we draw from it, the significance we attach to it, how we choose to live a life in the awareness of its brevity.

Shall we squeeze in as much as we can? Shall we pursue goals, through political activism, which we feel to be important to the future of our community, our country or the world? Shall we try to live a life that embodies virtues such as love, compassion, integrity, sincerity, and peacefulness?

Embrace a religion? Devote ourselves to our families?

As we like to point out to each other, “we only go around once.” As far as we know anyway.

Some people, deeply aware of the brevity of life and the impermanence of all things—“the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life,” in the language of our last will and testament—are driven to seek consolation and refuge in something that endures, that doesn’t change, something eternal, a “peace everlasting,” the Truth. In other words, the proposal of the world’s religions.

Others, also deeply aware, but rejecting religion’s claim that there is something beyond this endless transience, a divinity within and without, an “immortal soul,” accept the indisputable, and view the passing show with serene detachment, choosing to be spectators of the fleeting world, even of their own lives.

They would agree with Prospero in The Tempest: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

No one can escape the choice: in Pascal’s words, “the wager.”

SECOND INTERROGATION 

The sign of My forgiveness in the affliction is that I make it a means to a knowledge.

                                                                                                       ~~ Niffari (?-965)                                                                                                                                                            

This is one of those not uncommon citations in the Wisdom Tradition where someone presumes to be speaking as God. Niffari—Muhammad ibn’ Abd al-Jabbar Niffari—was a wandering dervish recognized as a great Sufi teacher. We can assume that in an ecstatic vision he felt the presence of Allah within him, addressing all humanity.

What do we do with such an assertion? Discount it as a delusion? Accept it as possible? Your choice!

 But there’s one thing that might be regarded as helpful in making the choice, and that is the depth of the statement.

We might ask ourselves: Is this, if true, something a human being might have figured out on their own? Is this statement in any way verifiable? Does it somehow “ring true” to us, and if so does that mean that we have to accept Niffari’s claim? Does thinking about it, dwelling upon it and even meditating on it, orient our minds in a spiritual direction?

Let’s examine what God or Niffari is saying to us here.

There are three key words (keeping in mind that they are translations): forgiveness, affliction and knowledge.

Affliction must refer either to a transgression or to the spiritual state of someone who has committed the transgression, whether or not that state is actually experienced, say as doubt or remorse.

Forgiveness is a tough one. People in Niffari’s day believed that there was a deity overseeing our actions, approving or disapproving, forgiving or condemning, responding with Mercy or Rigor, a celestial tribunal. Niffari must have faced the problem of how we could know what the verdict was.

He concluded that, in simple terms, if we learned something in consequence of our transgression, acquired some kind of knowledge about life, about morality or rectitude, this means that we had been forgiven. He felt that this solution to the forgiveness problem had been given to him in God’s own voice. And he felt it was his responsibility to proclaim it.

This jurisprudence is, to say the least, very different from our own, a very different solution to the problem of “innocent or guilty” and the interpretation of justice. It points to a humanity, a human presence, vanished from the world.

 FIRST INTERROGATION

This world, with all its stars, elements, and creatures, is come out of the invisible world; it has not the smallest thing or the smallest quality of anything but what is come forth from thence.
~~William Law (1686-1761)

What can this mean? What is “the invisible world”? What is Law talking about?

Let’s try to get into his mind. The mind of “the most eminent of English contemplatives.”

Law walked around in the world just as we do, saw with his eyes just what we all see. But instead of being satisfied—this is the world and here I am in it and that’s that—he must have felt that there must be more to the story. It couldn’t be that simple. He must have felt that there had to be something behind all this, behind what was visible.

He must have had an intuition, a conviction, that there was a Mystery here.

He must have reasoned, “How can there be greater depth in my own mind than there is in the vast universe around me, when I myself am part of that universe?”

He must have had, in deep and prolonged contemplation, a vision of what he decided to call “the invisible world.”

We, here in the 21st century, can easily dismiss Law’s conviction as a delusion. It was “all in his head.” Scientific instruments have certainly revealed an invisible world behind the visible world, but we know it isn’t what William Law saw, without instruments.

Now I doubt that there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t had moments in which they felt something akin to law’s intuition. The Wisdom Tradition is unanimous in affirming that we have a faculty, a power, actually given a name in Greek, Sanskrit and Arabic, that enables us to see what Law called the invisible world. Often that power is called “the eye of the heart.”

Usually, but not always, these moments occur when we are alone in Nature. When everything is pure. Never when we are shopping or watching a screen or leafing through a catalogue.

So here we are! Slogging our way through the visible world! Reworking our plans, responding to challenges, balancing our hopes against our fears!

Two questions arise: Is there an invisible world? And if there is, what difference does it make to us?

28 Responses to “First ~ Twenty-first Interrogations”

  1. Who cares if there were an invisible world and if it made a difference? One should be concerned about being, purpose, and meaning. The great why and its respective consequences.

  2. (this is really Charles, not James)

    Being, Purpose and Meaning are not visible to the eye; maybe that’s what Law was talking about. As the Noble Qur’an says, “Allah created the universe with nothing but Truth — if you only knew”; Truth, in its essence, is not visible either..

    • what one is trying to say is, without necessity (Truth), no amount of intuition is of any value. To think possibility without necessity, purpose, meaning is a sort of insanity, for to Know is to Be (necessity, purpose and its consequences). I guess the question is not “is there an invisible world?” but “why is there an invisible world?”.

  3. If the invisible world is the world of “mere possibility” that anything at all might pop out of for no particular reason, then the intuition of that world does not serve Truth — except insofar as it informs us that such a world exists. But when Law sees all visible things and qualities as having their roots in the invisible world, I believe he is intuiting how the possibilities of this world are rooted in a Necessity that transcends them. “Invisible” can simply mean “hidden for now, for this or that reason, by this or that contingency, this or that veil”. But it can also refer to Necessary Being, to Absolute Reality, to what is intrinsically (not accidentally) invisible because any visible or even intelligible view of It is necessary partial, conditioned as it must be by the form or state, the subjectivity, of the one entertaining it. Law is intuiting the Invisible as the Ground of Being, the sign of the Undifferentiated, the Formless Absolute, as opposed to visible objects which necessarily lie under the sign of partiality because every form is a limit. If you are “standing forth” from the Invisible World right now, then you cannot be limited to your self-concept, or anyone else’s concept of you; you open out “behind”, onto the Infinite. If you could see and know yourself in that way, continuously and without interruption, you would be completely liberated from contingent existence.

    • One understands that if one were looking down from principles that which is below appears abstract, and if one looks up from below, the principles above look abstract. All one is saying is all the intuition in the world is void without the profound necessity of things and their ontological worth, followed by the necessary consequences demanded. However, you have provided the profoundest of necessities and consequences as an answer, to which one is grateful.

    • I found one word missing from the discussion of the two of you…. ‘potential’, which is how I personally have viewed the invisible world. Only one version of the infinity of potential is ever available to us, but this does not necessarily mean that we are incapable of construing others or experiencing wonderment in so doing.

  4. As for that “wager” in the THIRD INTERROGATION, I’d say that to accept transience with “serene detachment” IS to stand as Immortal Soul, whether or not you believe in it —
    “immortal” not in the sense of “everlasting” but in the sense of “eternal right now”. Transience cannot serenely observe transience; only eternity can do that.

  5. Thank you very much for the Fourth Interrogation. If one were to “realize” one were the content of the Supreme Dreamer, and the content through the grace of the Supreme Dreamer (that which truly dreams) makes a distinction (through grace) of what is Reality and what is Illusion, then one has the Path of Return; from the Dreamer to the Dreamer (if one may describe it in such a manner), for nothing exits by the SELF, a path to Awakening. That said, when one knows one is a content of a dream; is not the path of the housekeeper superior to that of the monk? For “I was a hidden treasure and I wish to Be Known”, that said, “there are many Paths to GOD as there are souls on the earth”, and it is offensive to say one path is superior to another. But then is not the path of the house keeper and the monk, at essence not the same as “may GOD’s will be done not mine”. With only three thoughts being of validity (effacement of self, loving the neighbor and contemplating GOD and GOD alone).

  6. In regard to the 5th Interrogation, Marty Glass is presenting a very sly and subtle nuance here within the perennial philosophy.

    It is written in the Koran that “It may happen that you will hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you will love a thing which is evil for you. God knows and you know not.” (2:216)

    Rabia’s words, “Conceal your good deeds as you conceal your evil deeds” is justified by the truth that we as humans know not what is a good deed and what an evil deed, thus it is beautiful and right to conceal all deeds, and leave it up to God to reveal what should be praised and what should be punished. And also to have faith and love of God in all we do, and hope that His mercy and guidance is present in all of our deeds.

  7. Although we don’t know for certain which deeds of ours are good and which are evil, we do tend to divide our deeds into those we THINK are good and evil, those we want to hide and those we want to reveal. This makes us biased in our pictures of ourselves and the world around us. But if we conceal both the deeds we are proud of and those we are ashamed of, we interrupt this obsession to edit our experience based on who we think we are — and we must always remember that we are NEVER who we think we are; we are nobody but who God KNOWS we are. If we conceal our “good” deeds, we are saying to ourselves
    “maybe they aren’t necessarily so good after all”; and if our good deeds aren’t certainly good, then maybe our evil ones aren’t enrely evil either; God knows best. This is poles apart, however, from the moral ambiguity that comes from always making excuses for yourself; it is the virtual moral certainty that comes suspending judgment, and realizing that only God is al-Adl, the Just.

    When Jesus said, “don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing”, he was asking us to conceal our “good” deeds from OURSELVES, not just from the world; who are we to judge ourselves as good? Only God is al-Quddus, the Holy.

  8. Marty says that, on the one hand, this world is a mixed bag ending in death, but on the other hand, it’s a divine manifestation—and that it is the first view that’s usually emphasized. But there’s a third view, a third hand in this game, which states that the very fact that this world is a mixed bag, that there is necessarily an element of rigor and suffering in our life here, is the very point of human birth. Faced with this suffering, and with the choice between hiding from our suffering by “buying” this world and confronting it by saying NO to this world’s enticements, we find ourselves in the presence of the very work we came here, or were sent here, to perform. The Qur’an makes it clear that human beings bear the central responsibility for earthly life, something called “the Trust,” and that if we fulfill this Trust, we are higher even than the angels. When God was planning to send humanity to earth and place this responsibility upon us, the angels—who have the power to see through time—were appalled. “What?” they asked Him, “Are you going to turn the earth over to a being who will shed blood?”—to which God answered: “I know something you don’t.” The true mystery of life in this world is that by saying NO to the world and YES to God we are achieving something, working something out, that could never be achieved or worked out if there were no world to say NO to; this is why St. Augustine called this fall of ours into a world of delusion and suffering a felix culpa, a “fortunate fault”. And even though God certainly does not will that we sin or fall into ignorance, He has nonetheless clearly willed that we be confronted with this challenge. But if we ask “Exactly what is this mysterious value that we are here to work out?”—a question that appears to be entirely legitimate—the answer seems to be that if God were to fully answer this question for us now the game would be up before the very victory we are commanded to play it for could be achieved, with the appended promise that in the next world all questions will be answered. And this “next world” is also the world that those who win the game find themselves living in, even in this life. But if some of the “winners” are still around—presuming we could find and recognize them—why can’t we just ask them the answer to this maddening riddle? The best, and possibly the only answer may be the one provided by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching: “Those who talk don’t know, and those who know don’t talk.”

  9. Marty raises an important question here: Why do we always think we need a religious justification for common human decency? Isn’t the moral sense a part of what it is to be human, without an overlay of rulings by religious authorities? It certainly seemed like this was true in the “secular humanist” era, which is now past. In those days “crusaders” like Mother Jones and Louis Brandeis—and Pete Seeger?—appeared in the guise of “secular saints”. But in our own times of universal corruption it is becoming increasingly obvious that religion is the only guarantee of any ethical standards whatsoever, though its present ability to fulfill that role certainly leaves much to be desired. The personal and social morality of secular humanism in the west was derived from Christianity, though not credited to it; the humanists who appealed to “common decency” were, without knowing it, spending what they had inherited from the Christian revelation; they were drawing from, and ultimately over-drawing, a moral account that now has zero balance.

    It’s true that the spiritual Path pertains only to individuals; no community, even one based on a divine revelation, ever became a saint. But we can’t deny the fact that the founders of the major world religions came to found COMMUNITES: Jesus established an ecclesia, Muhammad an ummah, the Buddha a sangha. We may have to be “in but not of” these communities even as we are called to be in but not of the world—to the degree that they themselves have become worldly— but community remains an integral aspect of the spiritual life, just as “the flight of the alone to the Alone” remains the essence of the individual’s relationship to God.

    The existence or lack of a viable religious community cannot simply be considered as irrelevant. The individual who turns to a divine revelation for ethical guidance while living within traditional society that follows essentially the same standards, and one who tries to do so in a profane secular society that denies the validity of those standards at every point, will confront vastly different challenges. The one supported in his or her ethical decisions by a traditional society—admitting of course that no traditional society is without its corruptions and abuses—will mostly have only his or her own personal temptations to wrestle with, while the one who must make ethical decisions AGAINST the standards of the surrounding society must also struggle against and defeat the influences of false and degenerate social ideology. For the lucky few with a keen ethical sense and the spiritual stamina to follow it, confronting the moral darkness of a profane society may refine and deepen their ethical response; one remembers how people like Victor Frankl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Elie Wiesel rose to ethical heights approaching sainthood in the face of Nazi tyranny. But for most of us, the loss of social support for ethical decisions based on spiritual principles exposes us to serious temptations that we will not always be able to overcome.

    Social collectives based on divine revelations, despite the depressing fact that they are capable of invoking these revelations in support of collective crimes, are nonetheless a positive thing; they are useful supports to the spiritual Path that are actually willed by God. Virtually every quotation from a traditional sage given in these Interrogations is from a person formed by a society based on one of these revelations. But we are now forced to admit that such spiritual collectives are becoming a thing of the past. Tibet was busted by the Red Chinese; traditional Hinduism, according to Rama Coomaraswamy, is now practiced by no more than 5% of the population of India; Europe and North America are firmly “post-Christian”, and dar al-Islam, the last world civilization based on a divine
    revelation, appears to be on its last legs. So our job now, we who understand something
    of the truth and depth of the great revelations, is to become a “remnant”, like the early Christian hermits were who left “the darkness of This World” by quitting the cities of the degenerate Roman Empire and heading for the caves of Egypt and Syria. In those days you could “leave the world” in a literal, geographical sense, and while this is not completely impossible even today, it’s getting harder all the time; that’s why the Sufi practice of “solitude in company” is becoming ever more relevant to our lives in this Age of Darkness. Now that the caves in the cliffs above the Nile are inhabited only by tourists, archaeologists and guards from the Department of Antiquities, another cave still remains available to us: the Cave of the Heart.

  10. Here’s where I don’t entirely agree with Marty—specifically where he says “there is no such thing as the accumulation of merit; good deeds take us nowhere on the spiritual Path”.

    I’m afraid that the positive spiritual effects of “good actions” cannot be affirmed or denied that easily; it’s simply not that simple. To begin with, I believe that there IS such a thing as the accumulation of merit; the question is, what can be “bought” by this merit? All the merit accumulated by all the good deeds of a lifetime, or many lifetimes, cannot buy Liberation, only various “worldly” benefits, on the order of: “if you are generous to people they are more likely to like and respect you; if you help them, they may be more willing to help you when you need it.” However, the detachment from good deeds and the merit accrued by them may indeed advance you on the spiritual Path. If you apply the merit accrued by good deeds to (temporarily) improve conditions for yourself, in this life or the next, then that’s all you will get; as Jesus said in reference to the Pharisees, “they have their reward”. But if you accumulate merit and then give it away, give it to God, renounce the material or psychological or “spiritual” goods that you have every right to purchase with it, then the good deeds that resulted in that merit have indeed taken you somewhere on the spiritual Path. The famous Sufi Ibrahim ibn Adhem gave up the kingship of the city of Balkh to follow that Path; in so doing he renounced not only the power and prestige and opulence of kingship, but also the resources that would have allowed him to do good deeds, such as feeding the poor; his renunciation of the power to do worldly good resulted in a greater spiritual good. The merit earned by good deeds is sometimes referred to as the “golden chain”, indicating that a bondage to “good” and the doing of good is still a veil that separates us from God, who is said in Sufism to be behind “70,000 veils of light and darkness”. This, however, does not mean that there is no difference between light and darkness. Love, generosity, service, humility represent higher stations on the spiritual Path, and on the path of life, than hatred, greed, lust and arrogance; they are closer to reflecting the true nature of God. Muslims say that God has 99 names (actually an infinite number, but 99 is more manageable), and that these names are divided into Names of Beauty and Names of Rigor, and also “ranged in ranks”; some are higher and some lower. All the Names represent real aspects of God—or rather, real relationships between Him and the various aspects of His creation—but the Names of Beauty, such as al-Rahman, “the All-Merciful”, are higher and more all-encompassing than the names of Rigor, such as al-Muntaqim, “the Avenger”, , because they better represent the real nature of God. As the hadith qudsi puts it, “My Mercy has precedence over My Wrath”.

    And yet God in His Essence is beyond all Names and not to be defined by them. If we are “dominated” by the Names of Mercy we are certainly closer to God than if we are dominated by the names of Wrath….but again, it’s not that simple. Though greed, lust and anger are heavy veils, the suffering they cause, to ourselves and others, may act to “wake us up” in a way that generosity, love and humility often do not. The Buddhist yogi-saint Milarepa only embarked on the spiritual path after he saw the destructive effects of his practice of black magic. His own darkness helped enlighten him by a sort of shock technique; at the very least, it made him “highly motivated” to escape the karmic effects of his sins. By the same token, those rich in merit, in spiritual virtue, may find it harder to see that virtue itself is also a veil, a “golden chain”. One “esoteric” interpretation of the parable of the rich young man in the Gospels, who claimed that he had never sinned and asked Christ what more he could do to reach perfection, only to be told “sell what you have and give to the poor; come, and follow Me”, is that Christ was calling on him to “sell” his spiritual wealth, his dearly-bought virtue, in order to buy “the Pearl of great price”. The rich young man went away disheartened, possibly because he thought that Jesus was implying that he should embrace evil rather than simply break his attachment to his own righteousness. And it is true that many people who take the adage “the sage is beyond good and evil” in a nihilistic sense do think that the fact that Absolute Reality transcends good and evil means that there is no difference, spiritually speaking, between good and evil actions. They are wrong. Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhavagad-Gita, “act, but dedicate the fruits of action to Me”; this is the basic formula of karma-yoga, the way of action. But you can’t pursue the path of karma-yoga by doing evil and then dedicating the effects of your evil actions to God, for the simple reason that evil is selfish, and there is no way you can selflessly dedicate your selfish actions to anything or anyone. All you can do is repent of them. As Frithjof Schuon explains it, God is beyond good and evil not because He is a kind of promiscuous mixture of them but because He is all Good, and consequently beyond the opposition between good and evil. A good that is always at odds with evil is thereby involved with it; a Good that is Absolute encounters no evil to which it might be opposed, because the Absolute is also Infinite; there is nothing outside It.

    Sin serves the spiritual path because it confronts us with our need—with the truth that, in the words of Jesus, “none is good except God”, and in the words of the Qur’an, “I am the Rich and you are the poor”. Only if we squarely face our own inadequacy can we cry for Mercy. And virtue serves the path because it is the highest good in this world, and to sacrifice this highest worldly good for Something even higher is a worthy sacrifice indeed. But as Marty implies, only if we seek the direct realization of God as an inner experience will both vice and virtue serve this realization; if we do not, they will only further bind us, entangle us in our own ignorance. Adam and Eve sinned not when they ate the fruit of the “tree of evil”, but that of “the tree of the knowledge of good AND evil”. As soon as they did that, they forgot the Tree of Life, the direct knowledge of God, which was also in the Garden. After that, the only way back to this direct knowledge lay in their struggle to do good and their willingness to confront their own evil; once we are fallen out of the direct knowledge of God as an inner experience, both good and evil are necessary to restore it. But what was lost will never be certainly restored until we leave good and evil behind. In the words of Jesus, “resist not evil”; in the words of the Holy Qur’an, “there is no refuge from God but in Him.”

  11. Marty raises the question here, “can we really throw out the whole world of the miraculous, of invisible beings and forces, of magic and witchcraft, of angels and demons, and still believe in God?” The answer, apparently, is “no.” The structure of existence is not dualistic
    — God and this world — but tripartite: Absolute Reality, the material universe, and
    “everything in between”. When we cut out everything in between, our view of existence collapses; we start to see God through materialistic eyes. We may believe that we are “purifying” our concept of God from “superstition”, overcoming “anthropomorphism” in our view of Him, rising Him up to His proper station as Absolute Reality by no longer dragging Him down to the level of a cheap wonderworker, a kind of Santa Claus who only exists to fulfill our wishes and protect us from our fears. But if we do this, if we deny God all power to ACT, we turn Him into an sbstraction. He is no longer an all-knowing and all-powerful Supreme Being, simply a “resource” for us to tap, a symbol of the spiritual realization we hope some day to attain. In the words of C.S. Lewis, He is “there if you want
    Him, like a book on a shelf….there is no danger that heaven and earth will flee away at his touch.” An abstract God like this becomes ever less like a Someone and ever more like a thing, a quasi-material object, a set of natural laws….and so in our attempt to make God purely transcendent we end by making Him a function of matter, perhaps definable as an experience that evolution has “hard-wired” our brain to produce, given the right circum-
    stances. So He becomes not only material, but subjective — which proves that we can’t even maintain our belief in the reality of matter if wer no longer believe in God. At this point a line by Beat Generation poet Lew Welch becomes highly relevant: “I seek union with what goes on whether I look at it ir not.”

    As for not suffering a witch to live, this beings in the whole question of “fighting evil.” Certainly we need to fight our own destructive impulses, but what about those we perceive, rightly or wrongly, in others? Is such a percption always only a “projection” of an evil that is
    really in us? Are there no real murderers or terrorists or child molesters in the world?

    Or no witches? Certainly not everyone who calls himself or herself a “witch” nowadays is a material or psychic criminal; the traditional term “witch”, however, meant someone given to deliberately harming others by psychic means. Are we sure that this is impossible? The universal testimony of the wisdom traditions is quite the reverse; the Qur’an, for example, invokes the protection of Allah against “women who blow upon knots” — witches. And as for the belief in the Devil being limited to “biblical (or Qur’anic) literalists”, we need to add that this belief is also held by another group: self-avowed Satanists. (I certainly do not mean to strictly identify witches with Satanists here — but they do grade into each other, even if we do not mention the people Rene Guenon called “unconscious Satanists”.) Fighting evil, whether material or psychic, is a necessary part of life, and of the spiritual life as well — but if it becomes the main thing we concentrate on, the we ourselves will become infected by evil, and evil will win; that’s what Jesus meant when he said “resist not evil.”

    The more we attribute painful events to human or demonic agency, the less able we are to see that God is ultimately the Author of ALL events. We have made Him partial, increasingly defined Him in terms of the evil He opposes, or that we hope He will remove from our lives; in doing so we have lost sight of the Qur’anic teaching, “there is no refuge FROM God but IN Him.” If we see difficult events as arising from other people’s actions, we will feel outraged; if we see them as arising from material forces, we will feel hopeless; if we see them as arising from demons, we will be terrified. But if we know them as coming from God, then we can accept them — and if we can accept God’s acts, then we can accept His protection.

    The miracles of the saints are well attested. So is demonic activity. So is the efficacious-
    ness of exorcism. (For more on this, see my post “UFO’s Mass Mind-Control and the Awliya al-Shaytan”; click the link on the menu to the left.) An OBSESSION with the miraculous and the demonic will tend to erode both our ability to deal responsibly with the material world and our ability to intuit the Absolute — and yet an outright denial of these things will distort our whole view of reality.

    The mythic founder of the Hermetic tradition was Hermes Trismegisus — possible a Hellenistic Greek re-envisioning of the Egyptian god Thoth, though he might have been a real human being as well — “thrice-greatest Hermes”. He was “thrice-greatest”, in my opinion, because he represented a knowledge that embraced all three worlds: HYLE — the world of nature, history, society and the human body ; PSYCHE — the world defined by both subjective psychological forces and objective psychic entities; and PNEUMA — the world of Spiritual reality covered by these Interrogations. If we can supplement our spiritual and material knowledge with psychic knowledge, then we ourselves might be described as “trismegistus”. The problem here is that our DUTIES in lfe are primarily material and Spiritual: work and prayer. If we take care of our practical worldly duties while always remembering God, we have done what can be done to fulfill the human trust, whereas if we devote too much energy to exploring the psychic world, we will lose both our material grounding and our spiritual elevation. The best way to relate to the psychic world is to learn about it, not deny it, and not mess with it — unless our station in life requires that we deal with it; unless, that is, we are called on to help heal the psyches of others, or our own.

  12. While building his altar in the wilderness, the pious man prayed: “Lord, I have come to the forest to die to myself; I am building this altar as an expression of that intent. May my Enlightenment redound to the Enlightenment of all sentient beings.” And God heard his prayer.

    Job said: “Though He slay me yet I will trust in Him.”

    The Qur’an says: “There is no refuge from Allah but in Him.”

    The inseparable correlary of “He never abandons those who put their trust in Him” is “My kingdom is not of this world.”

  13. In the Twelfth Interrogation, Marty asks: “Why doesn’t everybody receive the Invitation? Why isn’t everyone receptive to Grace?” The simple, “free-will” answer is: “It is possible to receive an invitation, and then go on to ignore or reject it.” The “predestination” answer, or one version of it, is given by Rumi: If everybody heeded the invitation, if remembrance of God ever became universal, this world — which is maintained in its apparent separation from the other, supernatural world precisely by HEEDLESSNESS — would go up in smoke. God wills that there be both heedfulness and heedlessness so that both worlds will continue in existence.

    Ingenious. But it is also true, according to many of the traditions, that this world is maintained in existence through humanity; we are given “dominion” over creation (Genesis), we are bearers of “the Trust” (the Qur’an), because we alone of all God’s creatures have the capacity to mirror Him in His fullness. As the hadith qudsi expresses it, “Heaven and earth cannot contain Me, but then heart of My willing slave can contain Me.” According to this view, if we were all to forget God, this world could not remain in existence
    — and we can certainly see how the increasing secularization of the world and its ongoing destruction seem to go hand it hand. Apparently the continued existence of the world, the balance of the cosmic order, is based in a balance between the spirituals (the “pneumatics”) and the worldlings (the “hylics” — but of course, only the pneumatics know this). As the popular proverb has it, “it takes all kinds to make a world.” If we really understood this, maybe we would stop trying to CONVINCE people of the reality of God and the supernatural — which, as Marty points out, is God’s work in any case.

    This Ramadan I was given a prayer to pray: “May all practice of planting crops on somebody else’s land come to an end; may all crops planted and sanctioned by God come to fruition.”

  14. I’m 62 years old. About ten years ago I came up with the proverb “excitement is boring.”

    Everybody is born with a certain karmic task to perform. We are allotted, but must still pursue, X amount of X, Y and Z sorts of experience. Some have big tasks, some little ones, some medium-sized ones. Our task is the exact amount of “This World” we are supposed to bite off, chew, swallow and digest, the specific things, persons and situations we are supposed to identify with and interact with. (“Things we identify with+process-of-identification” = “ego.”) If we bite off too big a piece, we are involved in the passions; this means that our excitement/suffering has become more than, or different from, what we can really put to good use. But to bite off too small a piece of the world is also a passion. One form that too big a bite sometimes takes is “greed”; a form that too small a bite will sometimes take is “sloth”. (You can easily imagine the names of the other ones.)

    But isn’t the ego our worst, perhaps our only, enemy? The main barrier, veil, illusion, bondage that we must see through or break with in order to attain Peace? Certainly it is.
    But if we never develop such an ego — or the right kind of ego, the one really meant for us — then we can never come to the point where we say: “What I REALLY want is Peace.” And so Peace never comes. This is what St. Augustine calls the “felix culpa”, the “happy sin”.

    Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa put it this way: Experience is is like manure. manure is not a particularly pleasant thing in itself, but it is good for one thing: fertillizer.
    Once we have gathered enough experience — not too little, not too much — the next thing is to spread it on our field, and plant the seed of Enlightenment. Experience, identification, excitement, the passions, the ego are the bondage; they are also the nourishment for the Bodhi, the Enlghtenment that will break that bondage. The trick is being able to tell exactly when we have ENOUGH manure — not too much, not too little — the moment when we should stop collecting fertillizer and start spreading it. That’s the moment when the Call comes: “Time to leave This World.” If we abandon the world too soon, out of imbalanced spiritual ambition, or too late, out of sleepiness or cowardice, we will never find Peace.

    “Ripeness is all”, said Shakespeare.

  15. What Marty says is so close to being entirely right; it’s right as far as it goes, and it goes
    pretty far. But I fear we have to admit that not everything that calls itself a religion, in Marty’s sense, actually is one. L. Ron. Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, a prophet? A saint? Forget it. The Neo-Paganism invented by the Nazis, one of those pretty flowers he lists? I don’t think so.

    A true religion needs to be oriented toward the Absolute, the One. “God is One God (in three Divine Persons)” says Christian doctrine. The Absolute Reality is ADVAITA, “not two” say the Hindus. SHEMA, YISRAEL, ADONAI ELOHENU, ADONOI ECHAD says Judaism. “The Ultimate Reality is Void” say the Buddhists, and in voidness there can be no distinctions. “There is no god but God” says Islam. And the Lakota knew Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, as the One Reality behind all things.

    Not all “religions” are oriented toward the Absolute, however. Some literally worship a multiplicity of “gods”, not as names and aspects of the One, but as separate principles in themselves. Some ruthlessly seek not self-transcendence but magical power in service to the ego. Some practice human sacrifice, like the Canaanites who roasted their children inside red-hot idols of Moloch. Those who would like to get a clearer picture of the REAL distinctions between religions, distinctions that have nothing to do with simply defending familiar turf, should read Ruth Benedict’s PATTERNS OF CULTURE. The Pueblo Indians’ religion was built around living in peace with each other; the religion of the South Sea islanders known (appropriately) as the IK was based on casting spells on each other so as to blight crops and cause illness. The religion of the Aztecs embraces some high spiritual conceptions and produced some beautiful poetry; unfortunately, these worshippers spent much of their time going to war (“flower wars” they called them) so as to capture victims for human sacrifice and then tear ther hearts out to feed the Sun. And the polytheistic Pagan Arabs buried their female infants alive, a practice ended by the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. ARE THESE THINGS ‘RELIGIONS’, OR NOT?

    How unfortunate it is that we have to admit such realities. Once we do, how can we tell the difference between a bigoted campaign against an unfamiliar religion that really worships the same God we do, and a humanitarian crusade against an atrocious abuse of human dignity? Especially when certain militant efforts are capable of being both at the same time, like the Indian wars of the Spanish in the New World?

    Questions like this are only answerable in the Silence of the One, the “peace that passeth understanding.” Or maybe the questions simply disappear. In any case, those who have dedicated their lives to conforming themselves to Absolute Reality will have little interest in comparing their Path to the Paths of others; they have more pressing matters to attend to. And if they persist in this commitment, they can be certain that whatever evils may arise and demand to be dealt with will not be the product of an unbalanced need on their part to seek wrongs to be righted, but will truly be THEIR BUSINESS, hurdles they must confront in their OWN path to God.

    But all things praise God anyway, even the hard things in life; and this is a hard saying.
    “The more he blasphemes, the more he praises God”, said Meister Eckhart; and Krishna, the eternal Truth and Joy, counseled Arjuna to enter a bloody war against his own relatives. The only way we can accept things like this is to know Him, really SEE Him, the eternal Truth and Joy, as seated in every heart — and in our own.

  16. That took me six seconds just to scroll down using the mouse scroll button, perhaps I should have used the scroll bar. I have a feeling it will take me longer to read.

  17. Just used the scroll bar, just over a second..think I am getting the hang of it…next step reading!

  18. And is noticed. And rewarded.

    Like looking before crossing the road!

  19. but not stepping out if a tram is coming! Hence the punishment!

  20. So bored of this I’m sure times are changing.

  21. But all things praise God anyway, even the hard things in life; and this is a hard saying.
    “The more he blasphemes, the more he praises God”, said Meister Eckhart; and Krishna, the eternal Truth and Joy, counseled Arjuna to enter a bloody war against his own relatives. The only way we can accept things like this is to know Him, really SEE Him, the eternal Truth and Joy, as seated in every heart — and in our own.

    So true.

  22. Re the 21st INTERROGATION: As Marty well knows, and has beautifully expressed in his book YUGA: An Anatomy of Our Fate, we don’t just become addicted to commodities in this “commodity culture”: we BECOME commodities. The Marxists understood that humanity becomes commodified and alienated when our whole value, defined as what we have TO SELL, is reduced to our labor-power. But it’s gone way beyond that now; we have become commodities to the point where we will sell our sperm to sperm banks, sell the next human generation for ready cash. And the explosion of the “social media” world (in relation to which we must remember that Facebook was founded by a CIA front organization so as to POPULARIZE mass surveillance) has turned us all into commodities by turning us into IMAGES, to the point where we feel that if other people aren’t viewing our pics, whose main canon of taste has now become soft-core pornography — or if the CIA is not surveilling us — then we don’t properly exist. To exist only as one’s view of oneself is a terrible oppression, but to exist only as the view of us held by thousands of other people we have never met and never will is much worse than that: talk about ALIENATION. The only liberation from this oppression is to understand that in reality we exist only as God sees us — this being perfect self-objectivity — that it is precisely by being aware of us that God creates us.

    Marty says that the task “this world” imposes on us is” to pursue the happiness and success, wealth and power, comforts and consolations, it offers”; this is how we are “captured by the terrestrial essence.” But this essence also captures us by sending us into flight from the sorrow and failure, the poverty and weakness, the irritations and despairs this world imposes on us, without allowing us to even conceive of a way out: In our time we are captured as much by paranoia and terror as we are by concupiscence and false hope; like the partnership of the nice cop and the mean cop, it is increasingly the commodification of terror that pushes us to embrace the commodification of gluttony and lust.

    But there IS one way (and ONLY one way) out: to seek, in the words of an epistle of Peter, the day “when the Daytar shall arise in your hearts”.

  23. TWENTY-FIRST INTERROGATION

    Those who find the Mysterium Magnum will k(my correction)now what it is: but to the godless it is incomprehensible, because they have no desire to comprehend it. They are captured by the terrestrial essence and are unable to desire to know the mystery of God.

    ~~ Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)

    The ‘Great Mystery’ once found is known, but to pass on knowledge of its existence to other people who haven’t found it, is hard.

    To say that they are captured by the terrestrial essence, is a little like saying that they are so caught up in the world, not only does the subject not interest them, they have no desire to even ‘go there’. So the mystery of God becomes not only incomprehensible, but more emphatically undesirable.

    Here Boehme is making a challenge. A challenge that breaks through this incomprehension and lack of desire to something greater. And by saying we are godless he invites, into our lives in the same breath, the ability to comprehend and desire, that Great Mystery which is not only God but ourselves.

  24. Regarding the quotation from a Rilke poem that is at the bottom of your mission statement page as: “Du must dein leben endern” –

    “Change” in German is spelled “aendern”. It can also be represented with the “a” having an umlaut over it and no “e” immediately after it: “ändern”.

    “Enden” means “to stop” or “to end” and I initially read that quotation as saying “you must end your life” and I thought, “Well gee-whiz, that’s not a great mission statement!”

  25. Also, while I’m being nitpicky, the word “Leben” in German is always capitalized, since it’s a noun.

    And “musst” has 2 “s’s”.

    So it would be, in German:

    Du musst dein Leben ändern.

    or

    Du musst dein Leben aendern.

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