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Sufi Conference 2008, Interview with Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

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Thanks for being with us. I wanted to start by asking can we trace back the origins of Sufism and Sufis to pre-esoteric traditions? Well that's a very interesting and difficult question. You're asking the question "What is the origin of Sufism?" And the answer to that question depends upon how one defines Sufism. If one defines Sufism as a particular historical tradition that takes the form of Tariqahs, orders, organized and dedicated to a particular form of spiritual practice then this tradition appears in history at a certain moment and it comes very definitely out of the context of the Islamic revelation And the integration of that revelation on the part of deep seekers who seek to realize the mysteries, the deeper dimensions of the revelation not satisfied merely to fulfill the outer form but striving to seek the mystical depth. But of course the search for mystical depth is a perennial one and an ancient one. That search has been the search of human beings all throughout history. So in the sense that Sufism is a search for a deeper meaning, a truer engagement with the purpose of life, in that sense Sufism is absolutely universal and is the essence of the revelations of all of the prophets. The prophets of the Bible, the prophets of all the world's great religious traditions. And of course the visionary sages of ancient Greece. Was there a point when the inner secrets of the East and West came together? Yes, there have been such moments and Sufis have always been interested in facilitating these convergences. And so for instance one of the very early Sufis or at least one of the earliest to use to be called by the name Sufi was The Nun Mystery. And he was said to be proficient in deciphering the heiroglyphs. And so it was through him that Egyptian and also Greek transmission of knowledge passed into Sufism. Other figures had contacts with the Christian monastic tradition. Others absorbed the law of the Israelite, the law of the Rabbis. And so many of the stories that are told among the Sufis are stories of the Biblical prophets. That have been passed down by the Rabbis. Kabbalah and Sufism are interrelated in that sense. And there have been certain figures who specialized in re-unifying disparate transmissions. One of these was Sheikh Soharwardi who consciously re-unified two streams that he said originated in Ancient Egypt with the figure of Hermes Trismegistus. One of these streams passed into Greece. The other passed into Persia. And he, in the light of the Islamic revelation, reunified these streams. And revived the law of the Illuminationist tradition of Persia. Later he was succeeded by a Zoroastrian sage who in the same way that Soharwardi absorbed the wisdom of the Zoroastrians the Zoroastrian figure, Azar Kayvan absorbed the Sufi transmission through Soharwardi. So there was a wonderful mirroring. And the Sufis have always been interested in these kind of exchanges because they recognize wisdom is one. It is the legacy of all of the prophets. It spans the globe. And the Sufis are always looking for the Majma'Al-Ba'Rayn, which means the meeting of oceans. And that was the word that was used by Prince Dara Shikoh, who was the son of Shah Jahan. And he used that word to describe that word to describe the encounter between Sufism, the Islamic revelation through Sufism, and Vedanta, the Vedic transmission through Vedanta. That the Vedas and the Koran were two dispensations of knowledge of divine unity. that came together at a mingling of oceans. And he was a witness to that mingling. And he produced translations and books detailing the correspondences between these scriptures. So the many, many cases of intersections between the Bene Israeli, the Biblical Judeo-Christian, Islamic stream. And on the other side, the Aryan traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, even indigenous traditions. The recognition that there is wisdom inherent in all of the deepest spiritual searchings of humanity. And the Sufis have been interested to recognize that commonality and to bring it forth into the world. You just mentioned Dul-Nun and the traditions that he inherited. Would you say something about Hermetic and Alchemical circles of Egypt of that time? Dul-Nun was a mystic who interpreted the heiroglyphs. He was also a nature mystic. And in his poetry one sees that he was profoundly attuned to the breeze, the trees, to all of the signs, the Ayat, of nature as expressing the divine presence. And the tradition of Alchemy is a cosmological tradition that works positively with nature as a divine revelation. That sees the natural world as a scripture you may say. And deciphers the signs of that scripture. And so the Sufi alchemists developed a methodology for the deeper study of the inner secrets of nature. Dul-Nun was just one. Later Jabiri Al Hayyan and many other successively and the work that was done among the Islamic alchemists Ibn Umail, ultimately reached Europe often through translations of Arabic classical texts into Latin and was an important impetus in the development of European esotericism. And produced an alternative to the development of modern rationialist, materialsim which ultimately generated the industrial revolution which has taken us to the point where the world is endangered by the proliferation of technologies, industries, extensions of science that are no longer grounded in a holistic, integrated, wisdom-infused tradition. Which is precisely what alchemy in its spiritual essence represents. But if the base of the civilization, the foundation of the civilization was based on that esoteric knowledge then what went wrong that we went in the direction of materialism and consumerism? That's a wonderful question. Yes, it is. And as a society we can observe an evolution. We can observe a process of awakening into greater consciouisness. A development of a greater sense of, a recognition of civil rights, human rights, democracy. There is an increasing you might say an illumination and awakening of the human conscience throughout history. Stage after stage. At the same time there are also cycles of the rising of shadow components in the human psyche coming forth into manifestation into the society. And if it were not for the externalization of the inner dilemmas and shadows then we would remain in a naive, original state such as the state of the original hunter gatherers. Now there is in that great blessedness. And at some level one can make the argument that that is the utopian, the perfect state before the rise of the city state, Before the rise even of writing, the script, that there was an idyllic, original form of society. But time marches on, the planets revolve, changes occur. And these changes bring out new splendors, but also new problems, new dangers, new shadows. And so there will always be a continuous cycle of crises. But a crisis is not an end unto itself. The crisis evokes and calls forth a response which can impel civilization to a higher degree of self awareness, of organization, a new paradigm. must arise to address the limitation implicit in the crisis. So the crisis of materialism, of scientific rationalism, it has been necessary for humanity to overcome the simplistic certainties of inherited religious doctrines. And to venture forth into an objective study of the basis of our knowledge. Scientific pursuit is of course is an extremely noble one. But all too often what occurs is that we exceptionalize ourself. We objectify that which we are studying and the witness remains aloof and uninvolved. Whereas in alchemy, one's work with spagyric, one's work with plants one's work with the substance is at the same time an inner work that is reflected in one's own consciousness. Ultimately one does not see oneself as separable from the environment. And every process reflects upon one's own process of transformation. And so the scientific worldview that supposes that the environment that the world can be quantified, controlled, manipulated without any self reference, without any introspection, without any personal process of inter-relatedness and transformation. That is a dead end and we're realizing that. And the crisis itself is producing a response that if we harken to it will call us to a higher degree of awareness. What is the tool of discovering the truth? Is it mysticism or mind or reasoning? I would not necessarily completely distinguish rationality from mysticism. The mind, reason represent...the mind of course contains the element of reason but also contains other functions. Imagination is also a function of mind. And the mental faculties including imagination play an important role actually in spiritual transformation and mystical understanding. And so reason certainly is an important element of our ability to navigate the world, to discern judgments that are crucial to our day-to-day operating. But at the same time there are other senses, other fields of awareness and reason always interprets the senses that we bring to bear upon it. But we limit ourselves in the senses that we employ. There are further senses beyond the five senses. And even these five senses, how rarely do we fully use them, are we fully awake and alert and engaged through our senses. When this happens of course reason must stretch itself to encompass the fullness of experience. And what if one would open other senses beyond the five senses. Senses that grasp, that intuit, fields of being that these five senses cannot encompass. The intuition that reaches out into the stars, the expansion of the heart quality that resonates and produces a sense of immersion in the divine presence. That too becomes then empirical substance for reason. And reason can certainly follow from the experience of a mystical state. Shahaba Soharwardi whom I mentioned was very interesting in this regard because he was fully trained as a philosopher in the line of Ibn Sina, Avicenna and the Aristotelian tradition and was also a mystic. And he found that sometimes the form of syllogistic reasoning was insufficient for him. There were certain questions on his mind that none of the authorities available to him could answer to his satisfaction. And he felt he had to have recourse to a higher mode of knowing. And so when he was grappling with the subject of knowledge he decided he had come as far as he could with syllogisms and he entered into a retreat. He undertook a deep spiritual retreat, prayer, fasting, meditation. And he had a dream. And in that dream, Aristotle appeared to him. And Aristotle answered his question. And then from the heights of that experience he came down and elaborated the response in a way that was logically consistent and could be understood and comprehended by someone who had not had the same experience. Because a mystic can not just make claim to his or her own subjective experience. And expect that it counts for everyone else. If the mystic wants to communicate in this world, then he or she will have to translate those experiences into terms that are relatable. And that is exactly what Soharwardi did. Does the inner mystical consciousness manifest in the outer world? Well there's so many different kinds of inner experiences. One doesn't want to over-generalize. But the mystical path is a progressive one. There are stations along the path. There are Maqamat and Halat. Maqamat are stations. Halat are states. States change frequently bu the Maqams, the Stations, are like phases of life. Phases in the evolution of one's awareness. That are maintained for months or years on end. And then the states continue to alternate and evolve but within the lens of that Maqam. But then one finds at a certain moment, at an initiatic moment one moves from one Maqam, one Station, to another Station. So out states of course affect our outer life because whatever we're sensing and experiencing inwardly comes out somehow in our words, in our expression, in our choices. And those states change from time to time. Once we have an impulse to do this and then to do this. To rest and then be active. All of those states are always changing. But there's a larger, you might say, vibration, a degree of attunement, awareness and that pervades one's life in a different way. It doesn't change so much, but it emanates out as a kind of continuous atmosphere It is the direction of one's life. It is the tenor of a being. And so, yes, in any case, whether one's experience is the more transitory experience or if it is the more deeply grounded foundational realization, it will reveal itself. We cannot hide who we are. Whoever we are. Our bodies. Our eyes. Our movements reflect our state. You mentioned in your talk today about prophets who reach at the top and then they have to come down off the mountain. How does that manifest? Not all mystics do return to society. There are renunciates who remain in caves, in cloisters. And that for them is perfect peace. When one enters into seclusion, at first one feels a bit out of sorts. And one misses all of the contact, the intoxication of outer life. But gradually that subsides. And one finds oneself more and more at peace and an amazing quality of serenity develops. And so it's perfectly understandable of course that there are those who enter into that really see no reason to return to the outer world. Everything is there. In the simplicity. And the isolation of that rhythm of life. But the Sufi faces a dilemma. And this has been articulated by Sheikh Ibn Arabi. When he says the lover is in a dilemma. Because love has two imperatives. One is that the lover desires union with the beloved. The lover wants nothing more than to forget himself or herself and completely merge completely into the being of the beloved and never to be a part, never to be separate, just to be fully immersed in the beloved. That is one imperative of love. But then even Ibn Arabi reminds us there is another imperative of love. And that is that the lover wishes to respect the will of the beloved. So if the lover wants union, but if the beloved wants separaton, then the lover must be prepared to sacrifice, to renounce his or her own desire in favor of God's desire. So that is what is meant by the renunciation of renunciation. Tarq-i-tarq. Renunciation of what is otherwise the object of the mystic quest. Unio mystica. To leave it for God's sake because God is invested in this world. God is deeply desirous to reveal the divine qualities here in manifestation. And at a certain point it is rather selfish of us to deconstruct ourselves and in so doing undo the handiwork by which God created us for a particular purpose. To be in manifestation. To be individuals. We want to go back to God. But God wants us on Earth to live now within the divine desire as it flows out to the creation. I wanted to turn towards religion. I wanted to ask how hospitable Islam is to inner mystical experience. Yes, if one reads the Koran Sharif, the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) with the eyes of a mystic, one can not help but be dazzled and overwhelmed by the incredible power, majesty, compassion, and beauty of these verses. And yet not everyone reads the Koran in the same way. And Rumi tells us in fact that the Koran tries to make herself ugly. That's what he says. And he even says that, elsewhere he says that the Koran is like a newlywed bride and the more that you try to grasp her and possess her the more she will flee from you and cover herself. You have to romance her. You have to court her. You have to serve her. And then in her own time she will reveal her beauty and she will be united with you. And so all too often, both on the part of critics of Islam and critics of the Koran from outside, but even on the part of Muslims who read the Koran there's a tendency to read in haste, to project upon the surface whatever one's own agenda is. To promote one's own particular interests. One's own sense of of one's ideology. One's tribal consciousness. And so forth. And so a very low level of meaning is derived as a result. It doesn't tell us much about the divine revelation. It tells us a lot about where our own interests lie. But if one really wanted to attain a fuller understanding of the profound message that is there, that mystics teach techniques for doing so which are called in the Christian tradition Lectio Divina. And in Islam of course there's a deep tradition of Quraha which involves a meditative approach sitting in a state of rhythmic absorption in the breath reading punctiliously the revealed mantric words in Arabic and letting the words vibrate in every cell of the body so that every cell, every hair is reciting the words and one feels that the divine speech is a field of vibration that fills the space. One feels that God is speaking to me here and now. Speech is vibrating. And God is the one who is listening to this speech. That method of reading brings out the vibrancy and the mystical depth of a scripture. Any scripture. The Koran is an Arabic Koran as the Koran itself says. This is an Arabic Koran. There are other Korans. Every revelation is a Koran. Every revelation is a Bible. Every revelation contains the prophetic message in the depths of it. If one can listen at this level. If somebody's language is not Arabic, how can that person understand the real inner meaning of the Koran? Yes, well there are of course translations. A translation is never the original though because in the translation you are...had a wonderful conversation... You have interviewed Imam Bilal haven't you? He is of course a treasure trove of Koranic learning. And if you listen to the way that he works in his oral tafsir, he hasn't I believe written it down, but he gives an oral tafsir. Each word is expounded upon with all the etymological wealth of meaning in paragraph after paragraph of exposition it's all present but these words are really irreplaceable. You cannot find an equivalent word in another language. Imam Bilal is always bringing out how these words resonate with primal sensual experiences. These are words that really resonate with the principal elements of human experience with nature and the universe. And all too often the translation completely flattens all of that meaning. I must say it is quite a challenge having compared the Arabic original to various translations I cannot say that there is a translation that I feel really very satisfied with. And if one really wishes to make a study, one might have to read several translations together and then still how far would one get. So it may be that going back to Arabic is going to be important for someone who wants to go to the heart of the Koran. And yet, the Koran's message of the divine unity, the Koran's message of the unity of the Prophetic lineage, the Koran's call for compassion, all of these messages can be found even in the translations. And this is the essence of the Risala. What is the most important contribution of Sufism in our present time of global crisis? We have already spoken about how Sufism recognizes the unity of the planetary prophetic lineage. That is so important at a time when religions are in deep conflict and these are conflicts that have the potential to reverberate and cause destruction all across the globe even beyond the boundaries of those particular religious communities. All the recent wars that we have seen unfolding have within them a dimension of religious strife. And so the recognition of the unity of the divine message is a balm for healing. That the world absolutely needs. And not only to awaken to tolerance, but to awaken to the constructive, dynamic, inspiring, uplifting vision of the prophets. Not merely that we simply accept to be tolerant and forgiving of other religions. But that we can rise up to the opportunity of responding to the whole cycle of prophecy as it has unfolded across the globe which is still to this day a force of guidance through the divine inspiration. This is the purpose of Sufism, to attend to bring peace between religious traditions, recognize the unity, overcome the split between rationalist, materialist, commercial consciousness and pious devotional observance. We have a world that is split between agendas of evangelism and conversion and religious ideology on the one side and rampant commercialism and competition and exploitation of the earth. There is another way. And that is a way that is spiritual, that is based upon consciousness, mutual respect between human beings participating with awareness in the florescence of the planet in the light of divine guidance. Somebody who is working in this practical world would say they are very good ideas but how to implement those? There's so many ways to implement these ideas. In fact one finds now many, many projects springing up, new technologies, new groupings of people who have decided to overcome the conditioning and the inherited conflicts and strife and greed and terror of the past and say 'enough.' We're just going to do things differently. And we don't have the final answer. We don't have the total solution. But we'll take a step. Meet together. Confront an issue. Learn what we can about it. Learn how we can avoid worsening the problem. Making different choices in our lives. Meeting together. Hearing each other's ideas. And praying together. Forming circles of meditation, prayer, study, action. This is possible and it is happening. In fact, the fundaments exist of a movement. The potential exists for a movement in our time. There are so many disparate circles communities, individuals. All that is needed is for all of us to come together in the awareness that something is afoot and that it belongs to all of us. And we belong to it. We'll receive tremendous inspiration from each other. And the way forward will seem much easier than it has. Can anything happen in this world without a certain number of conscious fully conscious beings present on the earth? God is fully conscious. If there is any other being that is fully conscious I have yet to meet him or her. But we are all growing toward greater consciousness. My grandfather once said the one who cannot assimilate the idea of unity will be assimilated by unity one day.

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Duration: 35 minutes and 25 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 1,174
Posted by: oneness on Mar 1, 2010

An interview with Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

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