Friday, April 28, 2006

Book Excerpt



All surrender to beauty willingly and to power unwillingly.  -   Hazrat Inayat Khan

If thou desire the presence, union with God Most High, from him be not absent; when thou visitest thy Beloved, abandon the world and let it go.  -  Hafiz

The word “surrender” in English has very precise connotations, none of them warm and cuddly.  It evokes images of domination by a superior force, of being compelled to do something we’d rather not do.  That’s in English.  Other languages, I understand, don’t have the same problem.  A Japanese friend tells me her language has two words for surrender which are very different in connotation, one meaning what the English word means and the other denoting “the acceptance of love’s enfoldment.”   Probably other Asian languages make the same distinction.  But the connotations in English are the only ones I know, and they’ve always sent slight shivers up my spine.
Maybe the concept of surrender is an easy one for you.    If so, I applaud you for your spiritual maturity.  As for me, for a long time, whenever I heard people in Sufi circles talk about surrender— surrender to the beloved, for example—my immediate reaction was: “There’s no way I’m going to do this thing that I don’t even understand!”  Admittedly, the phrase “surrender to the beloved” has a poetic ring to it, but to me it always seemed to imply that you were handing power over to whomever this beloved character was.
And, in fact, that’s exactly what it does imply.  But there are certain words and phrases that mean one thing in ordinary parlance and yet resound with a whole other layer of meaning when they’re used in a mystical sense. “Surrender to the beloved” is one of these.   Certainly, surrender to the beloved has the meaning we customarily assign it—I mean the one that sends shivers up my spine.  But in the language of Sufism that phrase resonates with a mystical meaning that transports us to regions far beyond the mind.

In earlier chapters, I alluded to a “place of no thought,” one that Pir Vilayat calls the “awakening beyond life.”  My personal experience of this place is limited, and I’m reluctant to describe something I’m not completely familiar with.  But here goes, and in what follows I rely heavily on what the Sufi metaphysicians have said through the ages; in other words, I won’t rely on my own understanding, but will try to provide you with the distilled wisdom of others.
We‘ve tried to compensate for the harsh undertones of the word “surrender” in English by creating the phrase “willing surrender,” which usually refers to a love relationship (though even here, as my wife points out,  we usually mean the surrender of a woman’s will to the supposedly more powerful, more  magnetic, will of the  man).   However, in this chapter I’m talking about surrender in the context of spirituality or religion, and in this context we generally mean willing surrender.  Even here, though, it seems to imply the surrendering of our own puny human will to the all-powerful will of the Creator.
For the Sufi, the word “surrender” has a totally different meaning.  Sufism maintains that the human being experiences two completely different but mutually dependent states of being.  There is several ways to look at it but the most common within Sufism is to examine this duality from the point of view of Wahdat Al Wujud—the Unity of Existence.
Wahdat Al Wujud is a specific condition, or more accurately lack of condition, wherein all created things are equidistant from the source and have no existence in and of themselves, they have only the potential for self-expression. Selfness or individuation is irrelevant in this state. To experience Wahdat Al Wujud, you must go beyond the state of reason, the state of regarding reality as discreet bits of information, and merge with the void of timeless nothingness wherein all things have their source and nothing has separate value.
Follow all that?  Good!  This is the experience of ultimate unity that the mystics, just as I have, continually fail to adequately describe.  Pir Vilayat says of this state that it comes before you realize it and is gone before you know it has come.  Other Sufis describe the state as a place of no thing, or The Blackness.  Everyone seems to agree that Wahdat Al Wujud is definitely not out there, but in here, in our being, and that we attain it by diving within, not by searching without.  It’s a difficult state to describe because we are constantly forced to fall back on the vocabulary of the everyday world to describe it, and Wahdat Al Wujud is beyond any words that are available to us in our everyday language describing discreet impressions.  
Sufis get around the difficulty of describing Wahdat Al Wujud by resorting to metaphor.  The most common metaphor they use is that of the ocean and waves.  In our ordinary conscious state, they explain, we normally perceive the waves; we are entirely ignorant of the ocean that is the source and support of the waves.  These waves, even while we perceive them as discreet objects, are not really separable from the ocean. But in our preoccupation with the shape, the size, the color, the emotional content, and so on of the waves, we completely miss seeing the ocean.
If, by dint of spiritual practices and meditation, we are able to perceive the ocean and merge with it, however slightly, then the waves will recede from our sphere of attention and the ocean will become all.   On the face of it, this may seem like a desirable state, and it is—except that when we are one with the ocean we can’t interact with the waves; we can’t get on with the ordinary business of living.  To interact with the waves effectively, we have to give them most of our attention.  This isn’t hard when we’re not aware of the ocean’s existence; then, only the waves are real.  But once we notice that the ocean exists, things are never the same again.

Friday, April 14, 2006


“Place a sentinel at the doors of perception.” Pir Vilayat

The above is an instruction that Pir Vilayat always gave at the beginning of a group retreat and was the advice he gave for the beginning of an individual retreat. For many years I did not understand what he meant. Where was this sentinel guy who was supposed to show up and combat all the stray sights and sounds that I was to be protected from? Wherever he was, he wasn’t at my perception doors because I could hear every little sound, was super aware of the people around me and was continually opening my eyes to check things out. I knew that he meant something that I did not understand so it was frustrating. The problem was, you see, that Pir Vilayat was very visual. He had no trouble at all in conjuring up various sorts of mental imagery and using that imagery for himself and as a reference for his students. For those of us without that ability however, some of the things he said made no sense at all. The sentinel business was the least of it. He also had this meditation that he would lead which he called Landscapes of the Soul. Some people would sit rapt in ecstasy when he went through one of these meditations. Me? I couldn’t follow it at all. In fact I once asked him for help since I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t follow him. He did try to help but I quickly realized that he didn’t understand my problem. I simply do not get clear mental imagery. At best it is murky. I understand that about a third of humanity is this way. Pir Vilayat was at the other end of things and was very able to summon up just about any image he liked. So he simply did not understand my problem and gave me advice based on his experience. This taught me a really valuable lesson.
We all have limitations. Even a highly respected teacher will, occasionally, not know what to do. In my own case, I happen to be blessed with students who tell me if what I tell them does not work for them. I do worry about the ones who say nothing though. Nothing to be done about that I guess other then to tell people that they can tell me if it doesn’t work.
Limitations are interesting for lots of reasons. One of the reasons is that we often do not recognize our limitations, thinking instead that others are not understanding us and it is their fault. In fact we can get quite irritated at the apparent stupidity of others for not getting IT. I believe that the more truncated our world view, the more likely we are to feel this way, and we will be all the more likely to think that it is the responsibility of others to grasp our intent - no matter how poorly it is explained. In fact I have seen people get all upset at someone else for something that the other person did not even know was happening; that they had no clue at all about. Have you ever heard someone, or even yourself say, “He should have known…..!” Meanwhile, the one who should have known has no information at all about what he, “should have known!”
I have been a carpenter most of my life, an up and down business as anyone in the construction field will tell you. During one particularly dry period, I took a job as a Job Corps instructor. It was a frustrating experience for all sorts of reasons but one of the more frustrating aspects was teaching these kids to use a hammer. For a carpenter a hammer is just part of your hand. You don’t think about it, you just use it. Not for the students. They would watch me and then bend nails, watch me again, bend more nails. It took me two full years to figure out how to teach someone to use a hammer. So, my limitation in understanding wasted two years of student learning. That was another lesson for me.
How often do we think that we understand something, maybe it is political, not realizing that our truncated point of view is keeping us from seeing all of the condition. And then we get angry because others, also subject to limitation, do not understand in the way we do. What is needed it would seem is for conversation, listening to others and trying to understand, wrong though they may be, but instead we get frustrated and angry, or worse; contemptuous of the other point of view.
One way that I think of all of this is to imagine that God, or however you think of Universal Intelligence, has need of all points of view, all types of experiences. I know this can seem a really harsh way to see things but experience would seem to say it is true. If the statement, Nothing Exists But God, which is in so many religions and philosophies, is in fact true; then that would mean that the terrorist is just as valid as the saint. How we think of each is also valid. In fact everything that happens has validity. It is all a conversation that the Universe is having with itself. This is where the mystic’s point of view becomes so very important and acceptance of all things becomes our schoolwork.
I invite your comments.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

ps: I forget to mention that I finally did figure out what the Sentinel was. It is ignoring the outside stimuli. It is a skill that you gain after some practice. If you send me a private e-mail, I will explain it further.