Monday, November 12, 2007


"Great knowledge is broad and unhurried, while small understanding is cramped and busy"

Zhuangzi as quoted in The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong

I love Karen Armstrong's books. I always learn something new about history, religious or otherwise and I always enjoy the wonderful insights she brings forth when she writes about her subject. My fondest wish is to have a nice long conversation with her some day.

The quote above is one of those sayings that you can use to examine the self. Is my knowledge broad and unhurried or do I remain small? My teacher, Pir Vilayat used to say something similar. He would say that we see ourselves as puny and unable to affect anything vast while our beings are magnificent and glorious. We live in a small illusion when all the while our true reality is immeasurable.

As I read The Great Transformation I am seeing that one of the most important ideas or philosophies to come from the Axial Age is self examination or what the Buddha called Mindfulness. One continually questions oneself. To sit and contemplate, to examine, to pursue each thought to its ending, to ceaselessly pay attention to your own reality is perhaps the most important of spiritual practices. This I have believed for many years but I really did not know that it all started over 2500 years ago. Humanity has actually learned a thing or two.

It is our habit, in this age of disappointment, to look to the ancient world as a time of peace and unity and wonderful simplicity. We want to believe that there was a time when humanity actually was peaceful. According to history it was not so. In fact, when you read The Great Transformation, besides the wonderful spiritual philosophies that were being developed, the one very obvious fact was that every one was in a constant state of warfare. The sage would look upon this warfare in any of several ways but usually in one way, that the wars raging around them and in which they were sometimes unavoidably involved, were merely small cramped busy understandings. What is different today is not that the cramped understandings have gotten any looser but that there are more and more people who are reaching for that true broad knowledge. Just the explosion of spiritual books in the past 100 years should tell you that. The only real question then is, what are you personally doing to enhance the breadth of your understanding?

In my last blog I wrote about endings and how all things eventually pass away into dust. "What then do we accomplish in the world if eventually it is all swept away into the wind as ashes?" A couple of people commented that it was what we did in between birth and death that really counts and of course that is true. However, there is more. There is a state of being that is hinted at in the deeper spiritual texts but which cannot really be explained. For centuries humanity has been talking around it, trying to say that which cannot be said, continually reaching for the unknowable.

"This craving for the attainment of what is unattainable, gives the soul a longing to reach life's utmost heights. It is the nature of the soul to try and discover what is behind the veil; it is the soul's constant longing to climb heights which are beyond his power; it is the desire of the soul to see something that it has never seen; it is the constant longing of the soul to know something it has never known. But the most wonderful thing about it is that the soul already knows there is something behind this veil, the veil of perplexity; that there is something to be sought for in the highest spheres of life; that there is some beauty to be seen; that there is Someone to be known who is knowable. This desire, this longing, is not acquired; this desire is a dim knowledge of the soul which it has in itself." Hazrat Inayat Khan

You will notice that Pir O Murshid states that the knowledge is already there, that it is intrinsic to our beings, it is just up to us to discover how to unveil this unattainable knowledge. How then to do it when this wisdom is so obviously unknowable? Well you can't get there from here.

On the same page as the first quote I used is a conversation between Confucius and his student Yan Hui:

"I'm gaining ground!" Yan Hui had announced on day.

"What do you mean?" asked Confucius.

"I've forgotten Humanity and Duty completely." Yah Hui replied

"Not bad!" admitted Confucius. "But that's still not it."

A few days later, Yah Hui exclaimed: "I've forgotten ritual and music completely."

"That's still not it." said Confucius.

But finally Yah Hui surprised his master. "I'm gaining ground!" he beamed. "I sit quietly and forget."

Confucius shifted uneasily. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"I let the body fall away and the intellect fade." Said Yah Hui. "I throw out form, abandon understanding – and then move freely, blending away into the great transformation. That's what I mean by sit quietly and forget."

Confucius went pale; his disciple had surpassed him.

"if you blend away like that, you're free of likes and dislikes," he said. "If you're all transformation, you're free of permanence. So in the end, the true sage here is you! So you won't mind if I follow you from now on, will you?"

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

Thursday, November 01, 2007


"Verily, the soul has no birth, no death, no beginning, no end. Sin cannot touch it, nor can virtue exalt it; it has always been and always will be, and all else is its cover like a globe over the light."

Hazrat Inayat Khan

This past weekend the whole family drove down to Virginia. My wife, my step daughter, her two children and I all went together. I had been going to go by myself but we decided it would be a good thing to go as a family so the kids could see a bit of Wash DC. This was a secondary reason. The primary reason for going was to meet my brother and his wife and to scatter our mother's ashes in a park she loved.

My regular readers will remember that my mother died last May and I wrote about it on June 6. A few weeks after that a package arrived in the mail from the funeral home, it was a box containing her ashes. For the next few months this box sat on my desk. Occasionally I would look at it and wonder about my emotions. What did I feel? I wasn't sure. It was a little strange to have the remains of my mom sitting in a small box on my desk. I did not feel her presence. When I tuned into her it felt like her soul was gone, that it was no longer anywhere around the Earth. I was and am quite content to allow her to experience the totality of the soul's journey. Unlike many, I have no desire to inhibit her soul's path by incessantly calling her back. But there the box sat insisting on reminding me of a presence of some kind.

After all of these months it is still not clear to me just how I feel. We are constantly reminded by our culture that we feel loss or grief or psychic pain but I do not seem to feel any of these things. The act of scattering ashes seemed surreal to me. They came in a plastic bag which was inside of a plastic box apparently fabricated just for this purpose, to hold human remains. I suppose the box could have some other use but I threw it away directly after.

By now, six days later, I imagine there is no sign of the ashes at all. I imagine it has rained at least once down there so they would have been thoroughly absorbed into the landscape. Perhaps this is a good thing.

We give much credence to the personification of death. Our cultures are full of all sorts of myths about the significance of death. We say that death is a kind of punishment or that it is earned for doing some awful deed. We reserve the death penalty for what we say are the most serious crimes. We look upon death with dread. And yet it is the most natural of acts. We are capable of creating all sorts of different ways of seeing the universe and of existing within our world, whether because of economic circumstance or with our own efforts. But death comes to us all, every one of us. What happens after is pretty much open to speculation for most of us. The one thing we might agree on, though not all will agree, is that there is not enough life.

I have been reading about Socrates. I never really did before and I am coming to realize that I should have. He had a very simple point of view with an extremely complex way of getting people to understand his point of view. His simple point of view was, "I do not know." No matter what the subject, no matter what the attitude he would deconstruct it to the point where you would have to admit that you did not really know and that your surety about a thing was based on illusion. In one of the famous dialogues recorded by his student Plato, he walks two army generals through this. The subject was courage. At the end of this dialogue he has shown these two men, no strangers to battlefields, that they could not really define courage. Yet he would also admit that courage is a real thing. This is an attitude that any esoteric student will eventually find, not knowing. Perhaps the real key then is to continually challenge yourself and your knowledge to the point that you discover that not only is 'not knowing' quite real it is also the only true means of self discovery.

We tend to layer ourselves with knowledge. We know who we are, where we fit in the world, what our role is, etc. All of these things are valid of course and give us direction that we need in order to participate in our family and in our culture. They are however illusions, convenient illusions.

What then do we accomplish in the world if eventually it is all swept away into the wind as ashes?

I will be curious to read your answers.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir