Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Essay from Streams to the Ocean

Many of us want to blaze our own path in life. We are inclined to explore where, when and what we wish. We believe we should think for ourselves.

We assume responsibility for analyzing events according to our methodology and interests. We feel a need to draw our own independent conclusions.

Many of us are predisposed to suppose that purpose, meaning, value, and significance should all be discovered or invented or created by us. This is our way of marking territory, clearing paths, and fashioning a philosophical homestead in the wilderness of raw experience.

This kind of rugged individualism is alright up to a point. However, it cannot take the place of spiritual guidance.

The spiritual wheel has already been invented. There is not only no need to reinvent it, this wheel cannot be generated through human effort irrespective of how intelligent or talented or resourceful we may be.

There is a strong tendency among many people to act as if spirituality can be pieced together into its original wholeness by a perspicacious bit of consumerism. For example, we read books on mysticism and select that which seems to be most useful and important, as if we were going through a bargain bin and could distinguish value from trash.

We go to talks on spirituality or watch television programmes on this subject. Along the way, we take in a valued clue here and an interesting possibility there. As a result, we begin to paint a picture of the mystical path.

We proceed like we were accomplished artists who knew all about: spiritual perspective; or, how to make our own mystical pigments from scratch; or, what colors were necessary to give balance and cohesion to the painting. We seem to believe composition and subject matter merely involve letting our imaginations speak their creative truths for all to admire.

We become eclectic in our selections. We seem to believe if one mystical tradition is good, weaving together elements from six or seven traditions has got to be even better.

We are oblivious to the fact that different spiritual traditions are the way they are for a reason. They have a history. They have a context. They often have specific target audiences in mind. They emerged for a purpose, and they may have declined or disappeared for a purpose.

Many of us seem to behave as if we were mystical cardiac specialists working in the emergency room of modernity. We encounter a spiritual tradition which is ancient and, apparently, barely alive, and we believe we have the capacity to resuscitate the nearly moribund patient through sheer skill and will on our part. As a result, we often make the patient suffer through our arrogance and pride.

Some of us tend to be true progeny of our technological age. We have come to the conclusion spiritual traditions of the past need to be up-dated and proceed to do this according to fashion and fancy.

We throw out parts which seem to have no relevance to modern sensitivities. We tack on features which appear to render the tradition consonant with modern knowledge and understanding.

We believe we are pushing back the frontiers of spiritual wisdom. Little do we suspect how right we are.

We have become the sorcerer's apprentice, wreaking havoc and destruction with each new incantation and wave of the wand. In the master's absence, we have got in over our head and have no idea how to stem the tide of rising, turbulent waters.

The practitioners of the Sufi path stipulate very clearly that guidance can only come from God. Guidance is not within the purview of human beings.

Prophets, saints, guides, as well as our own hearts and minds are not the primary source of guidance. God is.

The spiritual personalities who have a guiding function do so much in the way that water is released when sluice gates are raised. As such, the human role in guidance becomes a matter of the structural intricacies of the gating process through which water is channeled and regulated. The modality of release obviously has significance and importance, but the water for which the gate was constructed comes from God, as does the design for, and operation of, that gate.

Shaykhs are the living exemplars who give expression to spiritual guidance which comes from God. In a sense they are mediums of communication in which the noise to signal ratio has become vanishingly small. At the same time, the signal to noise ratio has become almost pure, if not pure, signal.

Spiritual guides have different multi-channel capacities for handling various dimensions of the Divine signal(s) which come for the benefit of human beings. Nonetheless, whatever spiritual signals come through a particular spiritual capacity, is undistorted, clear and pure.

Indeed, a very important part of the guidance which comes through spiritual teachers is to show us how to eliminate the number one source of noise interfering with our hearing Divine communication - namely, the ego. Spiritual guides are valuable resources in this respect because they show what the potential of human beings is when the noise of the ego is removed and only the pure signal of Divinity remains.

From the perspective of Sufi masters, anyone who supposes he or she can storm the bastions of spirituality through her or his own cleverness and talent will be repulsed. Such forays are the work of the ego and are always doomed to failure.

We cannot find truth or understand truth unless God wishes us to do so. We are powerless and defenseless without Divine assistance and support. One of the essential forms of such assistance and support is spiritual guidance.

There are many commodities in society which, because of their value and significance, become the focus of counterfeit operations. Currency, paintings, stamps, sculpture, historical artifacts, and jewels are just a few of the items which some people seek to imitate for their personal gain.

Similarly, spiritual guidance is now, and has been in the past, subject to counterfeit attempts. This is as true for the Sufi mystical path as it has been for other mystical traditions.

Due to the inestimable value and significance which authentic spiritual guidance has for human beings, there always have been those who were interested in exploiting the situation and trying to pass off the false for the real. The people who did this stood to gain money, fame, influence, power and status.

The existence of counterfeit "spirituality" poses a considerable problem for would be seekers. To seek means one has not yet found what one is seeking. Moreover, the seeker after the mystical path may have only a vague idea of that for which one is looking.

In a very real sense, one only will know precisely what one is looking for after one has arrived at one's spiritual destination. Since the seeker has not arrived, the seeker is not in any position to differentiate counterfeit spirituality from the genuine article. This places one at a distinct disadvantage if, and when, one encounters spiritual con artists.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) seems as good a maxim as any to keep in mind at this point. Although practitioners of the Sufi path have indicated no one can be his or her own mystical guide, nevertheless, this does not mean one has to become brain dead.

God has given us reason, logic, judgement, common sense, and reflection as tools to use to help us sort through certain kinds of information and experience. God also has provided us with a heart with which to listen for, and detect, spiritual resonances.

If we weigh matters carefully, if we are sincere in our intentions, if we try to listen to our innermost being, if we seek Divine guidance on the matter, then, God willing, we will be far less likely to be fooled, than if we merely rushed headlong into something in a rather naive, unreflective, imprudent manner.

One's spiritual well-being (as well as one's emotional, mental, physical and financial well-being) may be on the line. Therefore, one ought to have, and give, some care and consideration for that which potentially is being placed at risk.

Unfortunately, on the human side of the equation, there are no guarantees for arriving at correct decisions. Only God can make guarantees stand up. Indeed, this is precisely why finding a legitimate way to place our affairs in the care of Divine guidance becomes so crucial and vital.

No comments: