Sufi Conference 2008,
These seem to me such vital questions. And the question itself is more important, perhaps, than any answer. To keep the question alive, to keep inquiring, to keep looking, witnessing, experiencing. This is crucial for all of us, not to fall asleep on the journey, but rather as Christ said on the eve of the crucifixion: Stay awake with me, Stay awake with me. And these questions are important to us, not only as individuals but also collectively. These are questions for our species to ask itself. Where have we been? How far have we come and where are we now? What is the situation on Earth? And what is the path forward? If we do not ask these questions, we drift unconsciously,
randomly. Yes, grace still reaches us. But we have lost the opportunity to participate consciously, and purposefully in the destiny of the planet. And is there any other reason for us to have incarnated in the first place? Did we incarnate to make a collection of pleasant objects to experience entertainment to pass our time? No. We came with a driving force that propelled us into embodiment out of the throngs of angels surging, thronging for the opportunity to descend here to the frontier of the divine self-disclosure, participate on the crest of the wave of God's self-discovery, to take part in the awakening of the very fabric of the earth. Where are we on our spiritual path as a species? When we look around the world today we see much that is amiss. As a nation, we have been at war for years now. As a nation, we are deep in debt. We are seeing the signs of living beyond our means, of getting out of balance. We are in debt to other nations. We are in debt to other species. We are even in debt now to future generations. The whole earth is in a fever; temperature is rising. The effects of our over-consumption, the acceleration of our society out of control Our insatiable hunger is despoiling the planet. And we are anxious and afraid, living under the shadow of acts of terror, weapons of mass destruction, weapons now capable of destroying the whole race, the whole ecosystem of life. The stakes are rising. History is speeding up, and yet we're drifting, and yet we do not ask the basic questions: Where are we in our path and where are we going? Now amidst all of the portents of danger there are also the most remarkable signs of hope. We have come a long way. Civil rights, democracy, an egalitarian society in which each human being is respected, recognized as equal under the law. A world in which we are discovering cultures so different to our own. And yet, which carry in their depths, the same truths of the human experience, uniting us in the awareness that humanity is one field of the divine experience. That we are united in our common odyssey, the planetary perspective symbolized in the image of Planet Earth from space, an image that truly represents the myth of our time. There is tremendous possibility, tremendous blessing, and opportunity in our midst. And there is an awakening As recalcitrant and rigid as the forces of the old order, the forces of strife, competition, and ruthless exploitation of the earth The power of these forces pale in comparison to the creativity, the inspiration, the passion that is beginning to well up and it wells up in response to a cry It wells up in response to the depths of despair that are the symptom of our forgetfulness, our fragmentation, our alienation. It is as if the anima mundi itself cries out. The prophets have heard this cry over the ages. The prophet Zoroaster lived in a time when the gentle pastoral society was overrun by marauding cattle raiders and Zoroaster spoke for the whole conscience of his community when he turned toward the one to search for a response that was not a response of mere reactivity, mere acquiescence to the logic of violence and competition but a response from a deeper place. He waded in the river and beheld a dazzling vision that became the first of a series of revelations. And he had a vision in which the soul of the earth appeared to his prophetic imagination in the form of a cow, the cow representing the earth cried out: I am aggrieved. I am set upon with violence. He heard the cry of the earth, and this is the cry that every prophet has heard. And the prophet resonates so acutely with that cry that the cry reverberates and stirs the very depths of creation. Creation is born of lovingkindness, compassionate love, and when that depth is stirred it cannot but respond with a disclosure of the divine compassion, with a disclosure of guidance and the prophet becomes the conduit of this quality of being that the prophet must then translate into words and forms that people can hear and come together around. It is the legacy of the prophets that is our greatest inheritance, but all too often we have clung to the outer form of such a legacy, made an idol of it, and prided ourselves for our attachment to this tribal identity, this religious ideology rather than another one, and in so doing we have missed the whole import of the prophetic legacy. The prophetic legacy is one single lineage that spans the globe. It cannot be torn apart and divided asunder. That is a tragedy, and what is so awesome is to live in such a time when we can see the earth as one, when we can access the heritage of all the world's divinely revealed traditions, recognize the unity of those traditions, and recognize that the same divine guidance that inflamed each prophetic dispensation is available to us today, and is the source that we need. The problems that we have created cannot be resolved by means of the mentality that has created those same problems. We need to excavate a deeper, vaster, fuller source of guidance, a source of guidance that collects, synthesizes, and integrates the profoundest sacred visions of the whole experience of humanity's evolution. There was a visionary saint of the 12th century, a sufi named Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi who felt the urgency, the necessity of this impulse, the impulse to unify the streams of wisdom, Sheikh Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi He drew inspiration from Egypt, from Greece, from Persia, and he was deeply inspired by the revelation of the islamic message, the Koran. He wrote these words in the prologue to his magnum opus, the Hikmat al-Ishraq, the Wisdom of Illumination In every seeking soul there is a portion, be it small or great, of the Light of God. Everyone who strives has intuition, be it perfect or imperfect. Knowledge did not end with one people so that the doors of heaven are shut behind them and the rest of the world is denied the possibility of obtaining more, rather the giver of knowledge who stands at the clear horizon is not stingy with the unseen. The most evil age is the one in which the carpet of striving has been rolled up in which the movement of thought is interrupted, the door of revelations bolted, the path of visions blocked. Suhrawardi is quoting here from the Koran... God, the divine Being, is not stingy with the unseen. That should be our motto. God is not stingy with the unseen. Guidance abounds. However lost we might become individually and as a society. The way forward exists. The only real danger to us is if we should roll up the carpet of striving if we should block the movement of thought, close the door of revelations terminate the path of visions. That is the danger. The divine vision is generous. I know that innumerable souls do ask these questions. We do ask ourselves, where are we going? I have undertaken incarnation to be part of the great drama of life's unfoldment and I find myself year after year becoming jaded, cynical, depressed, but suddenly there is a glimmer of a memory of the purpose which brought me to earth, and also the anticipation that I shall leave this planet, sooner or later, perhaps tomorrow. And then I will ask myself, what did I come to this world to experience? To experience and have I experienced it? And what did I come to offer? What work of my hands will I leave? What message will I have, will my life have, sent? We are constantly inscribing our signature on the tablet of nature. What is that signature? What is our vision of the good, of the possible, that our life enacts, and embodies brings into reality. Imagine the privilege and and responsibility that we endowed with will have the power to alter reality. This whole mad experiment of life on earth is not something that we are merely the bystanders to. The direction it takes depends upon my, your, our volition. And the opportunity is not an endless one; we have a number of days. What do we want, what do we really want when we have left this earth. What life do we wish to have moved on from? What kind of planet do we wish to have served? There have been times in human history when these questions have been asked, and human beings have come together to step outside of the narrow conditioning of one's own immediate experience and to seek to embrace and gather together the fullest extent that one can encompass of the whole gamut of life experience on earth, moments when humans have gathered together to sum up the epitome of human knowledge, of human experience. This has taken at times the form of a house of wisdom In Baghdad, the Bait al-Hikma which gathered together the insights of mathematics and in fact produced algebra. The insights of the ancient sages of Mesopotamia, the insights from as far as Hindustan, to gather together and sum up the quintessence of the human experience. In Alexandria such an effort was made. In Fatehpur Sikri such an effort was made. Now today we are here in the country that is a microcosm of the world, the fusion of innumerable cultures, but all too often we drift tasting this and that, billions and billions of dollars are allocated to aggressive military strategizing, And all of the resourcefulness and creativity that exists lies in wait to be galvanized to be put to the service of coming together As human beings concerned with the future, What are the spiritual traditions, the cultural traditions of the planet that are our true heritage. What is the way forward? As a small contribution to this great enterprise some friends and I have begun to form a house of wisdom. We use the name Seven Pillars, which refers to Sophia, lady wisdom, who speaks in the book of Proverbs and says I have built my house. I have raised my seven pillars. I have spread the table. It is an invitation from wisdom to come together, in dialogue in collaboration to look upon the challenges and opportunities in our individual lives and our collective lives and to seek the answers that come from the heart of the human experience. Our growing house of wisdom has four special areas. One of these, the first of these areas is cosmology. There is a need to re-conceptualize and re-experience our place in time and space, our relationship with the environment. The environment has become a resource, rather than a source, and a resource that we have exploited far beyond the limits of sustainability. We are driven by our constant anxiety and distraction to consume to accelerate and rarely have we the capacity to experience our relationship with nature, with the elements, with other species, in a truly vivid living manner. So cosmology has to do with re-visioning our inter-relationships, overcoming the boundary of our false consciousness of separateness. Can you image how different our experience would be if rather than opaque skin, we were born with transparent skin. We would watch ourselves breathe. We would watch the air enter us and leave us. We would watch our breakfast. It would no longer seem that we are separate. We would feel ourselves to be a vortex a whirlpool, within the matter of the earth, drawing in substance, orchestrating it, configuring it organically and then substance is released, returns to the environment We are a vortex in the oceanic surface of the planet, and experiencing this directly, completely, reframes our sense of identity and our awareness of the life around us and it is all life around us. We have resorted to this very unfortunate word inanimate the inanimate, and we suggest, we imply to ourselves that stones, clouds, the ocean, is inanimate, without anima, without soul, but it's all soul, and that is the message of sufism, matter is spirit Matter is the crystallization of Spirit. And materialization is God's spiritual path. Our spiritual path as physical human beings takes us back into transcendence, but the one who awakens out of the solitude of infinitude, of eternity that one's spiritual path, the Real one's spiritual path is billowing out rippling out in degrees of manifestation, crystallization, form. The study of biology, the study of how this universe pours itself forth by autopoiesis, self-organization. Beauty crystallizes in ever new forms, increasing differentiation and at the same time, increasing communion between the different parts at its organicity. We belong to an organic whole. And our body is a microcosm of the whole. That is the profound discovery of the mystic, that one feels the ocean surging in one's veins, the sunlight glinting in one's eyes. The whole universe surges in this very body to occupy this body, for us to be here now enrobed in flesh. This is the ultimate mystery. I had a dream a few weeks ago. Sometimes I have dreams that are so striking that I'm startled awake. There are certain dreams that are very commonplace and ordinary. There are other dreams that grip you startle you, shake you awake. This was that kind of dream. It was the dream that there was a society, a secret society and membership in that society was based on one very simple criterion no other factors were important. There was just one criterion. It was made up of individuals who were vividly alive to, and awake to, the intense mystery and responsibility of having somehow inexplicably landed out here out of nothingness on this crest of the wave this frontier of reality's own self-disclosure to be here now awake, alert, feeling, seeing witnessing. We don't deserve it. We didn't earn it. We have landed. We have been created, formed and here we are, spirits, bodies, senses, intuition, revelation, all bound up together, reality witnessing itself. Yet mostly we're asleep. We don't join the society because we are asleep. But the dream tells me that the doors of that society are open. I'd like to share an experience that I had at the very end of my father's life. I was with him when he was in the last stages of life. I was at his bedside. We were watching over him, day after day. One could feel everyday, his spirit expanding more. He was going to places beyond before even his heartbeat had stopped. And I used to read to him, from this book, in fact this very copy of this book, which is the book of my grandfather, Gayan Vadan Nirtan. It contains my grandfather's poetry and prayers and aphorisms, and I used to read to my father when he was nearing the end. Sometimes I wasn't sure if he heard the words. There was no response and yet I felt, I trusted somehow that the words were going in and he was hearing them somehow. But once I read a poem, a raga, and I could see his countenance open up, and he let out a deep sigh. He'd really heard it. And this is a poem that spoke so perfectly to that moment and spoke so perfectly to the transition of one who has climbed mountains, swum in the sea, loved and lived the full experience of a human life and is now moving on to another plane of being What remains of these experiences? What was the purport of what has been tasted here? These are the words in the poem: Beloved, thou makest me fuller everyday. Thou diggest into my heart deeper than the depths of the earth. Thou raisest my soul higher than the highest heaven, making me more empty everyday, and yet fuller. Thou makest me wider than the ends of the world. Thou stretchest my two arms across the land and the sea, giving into my enfoldment, the east and the west. Thou changest my flesh into fertile soil. Thou turnest my blood into streams of water. Thou kneadest my clay, I know, to make a new universe. To make a new universe... Is this not really the answer to our question: Why did I come, what did I come to experience? And what did I come to contribute? Those are not two different questions. What I came to experience is what I came to contribute. To make a new universe. And it is not I that make the new universe; it is that in being stretched, in being kneaded, in the water of my blood pouring into the streams, into the ocean. In my flesh folding into the landscape, this physical universe itself is distilled in my heart as a perfume. The petals of the rose crumble into dust. The perfume lives on. And as we leave this plane of manifestation the quintessence of our central experience is distilled, uploaded, carried over, and a new earth is creating itself, through the womb of the human heart. We did not make this universe. We were brought forth. We were configured, out of the dust of stars, out of the whole saga of the evolution of the planet. We emerge into awareness with our birth, but with our birth a second stage begins, and now the earth does not evolve to produce us, but we evolve to produce the new earth. Mowlana Rûmî speaks about this. This is the messiah. The prophets have always answered the crisis of the age, but we live in the post-prophetic age. The great religious dispensations have revealed themselves. Something of the prophetic mission has been sealed. And when we look for the prophetic function, we look for the messiah. Great wars are currently under preparation for the sake of this messiah. It is believed, zealously, that the coming of this one, would have to be brought about by strife, conflict. The one who will save us, will only save us if we make things so bad that there's no other way. This is the insane logic of messianism that is tearing the world apart. But the messiah is real. The messiah will save. How will this messiah come? Rûmî gives the answer. As a muslim, for Rûmî, the figure of Christ represents that messianic being. Just as christians look to Christ, at the end times, muslims too, anticipate Christ's arrival . So, Rûmî reminds us of how Christ came into the world. He reminds us of Mary. He reminds us of the annunciation, the incarnation of pure spirit in the womb of Mary. And that annunciation is the symbol of a process that is occurring in the heart of each one of us. Mowlana Rûmî says, the Great Soul, Ghan Ikoul, the Soul of all souls, came into contact with the little soul, the little self, the personal self. The Self of the totality rubbed up against, came into friction with the little self, and something occurred that could not have otherwise occurred. The divine self, the great immensity of the totality, in itself was insufficient. The little ego, the little self, in itself, was certainly insufficient, but in the conjunction of these realities a birth occurred into the womb which is the heart. A seed, a pearl entered. And from that pearl, a fetus, an embryo is growing. that embryo is the messiah, and Mowlana Rûmî says that when this messiah is born into the world, the world will unite with this messiah, and through that marriage, a new world will be born. A new world will be birthed out of the tension, out of the friction that we experience in our heart between that which is beyond us, that which is infinite and eternal, the totality, reality itself and this little transitory, ephemeral entity, that is our personal self. In the encounter between these opposites, something new, true creativity, a true frontier of discovery, of disclosure, of evolution becomes possible. In the dialogue, in the interchange, in the rubbing, the friction, the little self and the big whole. And that which comes out of us transforms the world. Now Mowlana Rûmî also says, he tells the story of Mary who symbolizes this process, her womb is the heart that contains the messiah. that she on conceiving the messianic child went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and her cousin, seeing her, immediately knew that she was with child and she congratulated her, and she said I knew because I too am pregnant, and she was pregnant with Saint John the baptist. And she said I knew because my child bowed down, prostrated, in the womb when I saw you because it, my son, saw your son and Mary said, I know because when I saw you, my child bowed down in the womb before your child. Isn't that what we're doing here? Isn't that why we have come together, to feel the bowing down that happens in the heart of each of us when we witness the divine child, that is emerging within the heart of the other? This is the messiah whose advent we can look toward joyfully. Dedicate our life to opening the way.
As a historical tradition Sufism has displayed the rare capacity to harmoniously reconcile diverse cultural and religious paradigms without recourse to compulsion or reductionism. Sufism shows that spiritual unity is not uniformity. Today, when Globalization is squeezing the world into an airtight grid of commerce and consumption, Sufism possesses crucial clues for the creation of a world civilization worthy of the name.
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