Monday, March 28, 2005

Dogmatism, Truth, Validity + The Sufi Path - Part 1

Someone wrote to me asking a variety of questions
concerning issues of truth, validity, and dogmatism
in conjunction with conflicting claims that the
Sufi Path is, or is not, integrally linked to the
Islamic spiritual tradition. In addition, questions
were raised about whether, or not, the newness or
antiquity of a tradition said anything of significance
about the validity of such a tradition.


A given mystical path is not valid simply because
it is based in antiquity. After all, there have
been many theories, mythologies, philosophies,
metaphysical belief systems and so on which have
come to us from antiquity but which are not
necessarily true just because of their seniority
or longevity.

A tradition -- whether spiritual, religious, or
mystical -- is rendered valid to the extent it is
rooted in the truth concerning the way Reality is
on some given level of being. If a system which is
new, relatively speaking, reflects, to whatever
degree, the truth, whereas another system which
is rooted in antiquity does not do so -- or does
so to a very small degree -- then, the newer system
has more validity or authenticity to it than does
the ancient system ... and vice versa.

The authenticity or validity of anything is a function
of the extent to which something gives expression
to, or manifests, the truth. This is true of modern
science, and it also is true of mysticism, religion,
and spirituality.

A mystical experience isn't valid -- or it is limited
in its validity -- precisely to the extent to which
it is not an expression of the Truth of things. The
issue has nothing to do with what is, or is not, more
rooted in antiquity.

The Sufi tradition holds (at least, my understanding
of it does) that while each of us is Divine in essence,
we are not -- either individually or collectively --
Divinity in Essence. Consequently, each of us is capable
according to our capacity to do so, of serving as a locus
of manifestation for certain attributive properties of

Furthermore, the masters of the Sufi way maintain that
Divinity never repeats manifested being in the same way
twice. Necessarily, therefore, each of us has something
which comes along only once in the history of manifested

This uniqueness which goes to the heart of who we are
individually is very personal. It doesn't get any more
personal than this -- indeed, this unique-never-to-be-
repeated-again quality of ours goes to the very heart
of our ultimate identities and the purposes for which
we have been brought into existence by, and through,

However, having said the foregoing, this is not the
same as saying that anything and everything we believe,
value, say, or do accurately reflects, or gives expression
to, what is most essentially, personal about us in the
above sense. In other words, all authentic, valid mystical
traditions make the distinction between the false self
and the essential Self. Whenever something we think,
feel, believe, say, or do is colored and oriented by the
false self, this is not a valid or authentic manifestation
of what is most essentially personal about us in the
mystical sense of the word which has been outlined

There are authentic modes or modalities of being, and
there are inauthentic modes or modalities of being. When
an individual personalizes a mystical tradition in order
to cater to, or satisfy, the whims and delusional forces
that are active within the false self, then, this kind
of personalization of the mystical is problematic because
it serves to veil and distort the truth rather than unveil
and give accurate expression to whatever dimensions of
the truth we have the capacity to reflect or give expression

The present moment is the only moment that matters, and
much rides on how we engage that moment. If we engage
it through the false self, then, all may be lost -- including
ourselves. If, on the other hand, we engage the present moment
through our essential Selves, then, we are realizing, God
willing, the purpose of our lives.

With respect to the issue of dogmatism, there are several
comments which can be made. First, one can as easily
argue that those who insist on separating the Sufi tradition
from Islam are as dogmatic as those who wish to claim that
the Sufi tradition is indigenous to Islam.

Secondly, in a sense, the Truth is inherently dogmatic,
although mystic masters certainly do not tend to be dogmatic
about this. The Truth is what it is, or Reality is what it
is, and no amount of sophistry or philosophical slight-of-hand
is going to change this, no matter what our ambitions and
hopes may be.

The challenge facing us is to attempt to determine, as best
we can, what the nature of the Truth is. The issue is not,
nor has it ever been, whether or not there is a Truth
underlying, making possible, and being manifested through
the various realms of existence.

Mysticism is not a relativistic enterprise in the sense
that the Truth must be prepared to bow down to our
individual agendas concerning what we are, and are not,
prepared to recognize as true. We must accommodate
ourselves to the Truth -- whatever that may be -- and
Truth has no need to accommodate Itself to us.

The Truth will remain what it is whether we recognize
it as such or not. Truth is not made more true or less
true as a function of our beliefs, likes, dislikes,
and so on.

It is only our varying, limited capacities to see,
understand and give expression to the Truth which
makes it seem as if Truth is a relative phenomenon.
What is relative is our individual perspectives and
not the Truth which is Absolute on every level of
being and throughout all of created existence.

Dogma is a conceptual phenomenon. People who get
caught up in their conceptual systems and ways of
characterizing or representing various dimensions
of reality tend to become dogmatic and narrow in
their understanding of any given issue.

"Dogma' and the 'mystical' are mutually exclusive
from one another. This is the case because the
mystical path is not rooted in concepts, but is
rooted, instead, in direct, unmediated (by any
set of theories or ideational content) experiential
engagement of some dimension of Truth or Reality.

Yaqueen, or spiritual certitude, comes from being
tied to Truth in an essential, experiential and
trans-rational manner. Being convinced of the
correctness in one's conceptual position does not
necessarily have anything to do with this
aforementioned state of yaqueen although many,
many people confuse the two.

When a person is in a state of yaqueen, the
experiential insights and understandings which,
by the Grace of God, accompany this state informs
or directs the way such an individual uses concepts,
and, consequently, the concepts which are chosen
by, say, a Sufi shaykh to describe -- where possible
-- a mystical perspective are rooted in mystical
experiences first and foremost, and concepts only
secondarily and derivatively. However, there
is a limit to how far this process of description
of a mystical understanding can be carried since
mystical experiences tend to outstrip or transcend
the capacity of language to accurately describe
the content, character, richness, and dynamics
of true mystical experiences.

Go to Part Two

Anab Whitehouse

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