Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mystical Science

To use the terms "mysticical" and "science"
together may seem to be an oxymoron, or
contradiction in terms. However, the fact of
the matter is that the Sufi mystical tradition
gives expression to the idea of science in the
best sense of this term.

Sufi sciences give expression to the following
principles:

(a) science, of whatever kind - mystical or
otherwise - is rooted in empirical experience.
However, one of the primary differences between
physical sciences and mystical sciences is that the
latter explores, in a rigorous fashion, experiences
which come from sources beyond the usual biological
modalities of hearing, seeing, smelling, touching
and tasting.

(b) The use of instruments plays an important role
in the process of science. In the physical sciences
instruments (such as microscopes, telescopes, particle
accelerators, oscilloscopes, gas chromatography,
seismographs, and so on) extend the range of sensory
experiences to which we have access.

In Sufi sciences, human beings have a variety of
internal instruments (e.g., mind, heart, sirr, spirit,
kafi and aqfa) which allow the individual, God willing, to
gain access to realms of reality beyond the purely sensory.
These internal instruments, however, as is the case with
all instrumentation, must be properly calibrated before
they can give reliable results. The calibration process is
done under the guidance of the spiritual teacher.

(c) All forms of science depend on a recursive
methodology to help explorers achieve, hopefully, closer
and closer approximations to the structural character or
nature of various aspects of the phenomena being studied.
A recursive methodology is merely a series of steps which
is repeated again and again such that the results of one
cycle of steps is fed back into, and, therefore, shapes,
colors and orients, the next cycle of experimental steps.
The intention underlying this recursive aspect of the
scientific process is for the sequence of cycles to
progressively converge toward uncovering deeper
and deeper dimensions of the truth of things.

In Sufi sciences this process of recursive methodology
also plays a fundamental role. The seeker, under the
guidance of the spiritual elder, repeats a cycle of
methodological steps which are adjusted in the light
of the results obtained from previous applications of
those steps. Such recursion or repetition, with certain
variations, leads the seeker, if God wishes, to deeper,
richer and more refined 'openings' to the truth of different
dimensions of existence.

(d) There are some aspects of physical sciences which
make use of "unobtrusive" measures - that is, ways of
studying phenomena which do not interfere with, distort
or damage, that which is being studied. Nonetheless,
most methods employed by physical sciences do alter,
to varying degrees, the processes and structures of
reality which are being investigated.

In Sufi sciences, great emphasis is placed on seeking
to implement the use of "unobtrusive" methods in all
aspects of the seeking process. This requires one to
work on removing as many sources of distortion, bias,
prejudice, presupposition, and so on, from the exploratory
process as is possible.

In fact, the spiritual condition of gnosis refers to a way
of knowing reality which is not mediated by concepts,
emotions, beliefs, thoughts, senses, or language. As
such, gnosis is, in a sense, an example of an unobtrusive
measure (of a qualitative rather than quantitative nature)
which does not impose anything foreign onto the reality
which is being engaged through such a way of knowing.
One experiences reality from within the modality of its
manifestation rather than in separation and at a
distance.

(e) At the heart of physical and biological sciences
is the notion of "replication". In order for an experimental
result to be accepted by the community of knowers which
constitutes the jury of peers who will be evaluating the
authenticity of one's scientific work, the people on such
a jury must be able to repeat the requisite set of
methodological steps indicated in a given experiment.
Moreover, the people on the jury of scientific peers, must
be able, after following the indicated steps, to arrive at
an empirical result which, within a certain range of allowable
differences, verifies the character of the results obtained
by the scientist who first conducted the experiment.

Similarly, replication plays a central role in Sufi sciences.
However, there are differences from what is the case in
relation to physical/biological sciences.

For example, the seeker, who is to run the experiment,
is not, yet, a member of the community of knowers.
Consequently, the spiritual seeker is not in a position to
understand and appreciate the character of the experimental
results generated by his or her predecessors on the Sufi
path.

Instead, the seeker is performing the set of experiments
which previously has been completed successfully by the
spiritual masters who preceded the seeker on the Sufi
path. If the seeker can, by the grace of God, replicate the
results of the Sufi masters across a broad spectrum of
spiritual "experiments", then, this person also becomes
part of that community of knowers through the successful
completion of the assigned exercises.

In other words, through the process of replication, the
seeker has verified, for herself or himself, that the truths
to which the Sufi masters allude in their talks and discussions
are, in fact, the case. However, this is not a matter of judging
from the "outside" the rightness or wrongness of the results
obtained by the community of knowers of the Sufi path who
have preceded the individual. Rather, it is a process of
experiential confirmation which comes from the "inside"
of the truths being explored and discussed.

(f) "Objectivity" is one of the watch-words of physical
and empirical sciences. Generally speaking, objectivity
is contrasted with "subjectivity".

One's experimental engagement of reality should not
be shaped and colored by personal allegiances, beliefs,
vested interests or desires, all of which are considered to
be unwarranted subjective intrusions into the realm of
scientific inquiry.

One should permit oneself to be opened up to what
reality is trying to tell us, in the way it is attempting
to tell us. As much as possible, the explorer should
merge horizons with the character of the phenomena
being studied.

In Sufi sciences, the key to objectivity lies in the
conditions of fana and baqa. The former involves, in
a sense, the passing away of the false self, with all of
its attendant currents of subjective biases and distortions.
The phrase "in a sense" is used above because, in truth,
nothing passes away, but, rather, the experienced presence
of Divinity is so overwhelming that one loses awareness of
one's individual existence, as when the sun comes out
and blocks out the light of the stars which, nonetheless,
continue to shine on.

Baqa, on the other hand, involves the realization of
the identity of the true self, which is, in essence, a
manifestation of Divinity. The true, essential Self gives
expression to total objectivity according to the spiritual
capacity of the individual.

(g) Finally, as indicated in (e) above, the community
of knowers plays a fundamental role in both physical,
as well as, mystical sciences. In both instances, in order
for a person to be considered to be a legitimate member
of those respective communities, the individual has to
have passed through a rigorous set of purifying
transformations. God willing, these transformations
infuse the individual with some minimal level of
competence in the methodology, principles, values,
procedures and conduct that mark the quality of a
authoritative member of the community of knowers.

In physical and biological sciences, competence is
frequently judged according to the mastery which a
person displays in the use of logic, mathematics and
conceptual analysis in relation to experimental
explorations. In Sufi sciences, competence is a function
of: whether or not the individual has realized, by the
Grace of God, her or his true, spiritual identity, as well
as, whether or not the person is able to give, God willing,
active expression to the individual's essential, and
unique, capacity to bear constant loving and faithful
witness to the presence of Divinity in an individual's
being.

The only person who can testify to the competence of
a seeker of truth is someone who, himself or herself,
is, by the Grace of God, possessed by such competence.
This competence has been acquired not through personal
accomplishment, but through the generosity which
has come to the seeker though the channel way of
spiritual transmission that is given expression in the
relationship of nisbath between seeker and spiritual
guide.

Unlike the community of knowers in physical and biological
sciences, the members of the community of knowers in Sufi
sciences do not establish the standards, principles, rules,
values, methods and so on which characterize mystical
science. Rather, these members reflect the result of
submission to Divine standards, principles, rules, values
and methods. Consequently, they see, feel, and act in
accordance with Divine wishes.

If, and when, one is admitted, by the grace of God,
into the community of knowers of Sufi sciences, one
will, in one's own unique fashion, reflect Divine wishes
as well. The absence of this quality of reflectivity of
Divine wishes is an indication that the seeker has not,
yet, arrived, at the goal and purpose of the Sufi path,
and, therefore, has not mastered the science of the
Sufi way.

Anab Whitehouse

2 comments:

thomas meehan said...

I post many teachings by Sufi Masters as well as other Mystic Teachers on my blog at Mysticson.blogspot.com.. You may find this interesting.. I find your blog very interesting and informative........namaste, thomas

Anab Whitehouse said...

Dear Thomas,

Thank you for your comment. I've responded to your invitation to visit your blog site as well and have done so. I did find your blog interesting and have bookmarked it. Thank you! May Divinity bless the light within you.

Anab