Thursday, June 29, 2006

Spiritual Capacity

From the perspective of the Sufi path, every human being has a unique spiritual capacity. However, not every capacity necessarily will be realized to its full extent, or even in part.

Life is the opportunity provided by God to become busy with doing the things required for bringing one' s essential capacity on line. Whether or not we take advantage of the chance extended to us, is a matter of choice and an exercise in free will.

Spirituality is only one of the potentials we have been given. We each have been outfitted, so to speak, with other non-spiritual capacities. For example, the capacity for life itself is expressed through our biological nature. Our bodies, including the brain, have been equipped with sensory and locomotor modalities. In addition, we have, in varying degrees: intellectual abilities; creative capacities; a spectrum of emotional possibilities; talents of one sort or another, and a capacity for language.

The Sufi masters also sometimes talk of a wide variety of other powers and capabilities which are, under the right circumstances, available to human beings. These capacities range from: the ability to dream, to various kinds of so-called psychic and occult powers.

Many of these latter kinds of capacity are so infrequently accessed or encountered in any direct way, they are considered to be fictional in nature by most of us. Nonetheless, although such abilities are not really part of, nor pertinent to, the Sufi path, the masters of the way do confirm their existence.

Our numerous capacities generate a multiplicity of experiential possibilities, each of which is conducive to extended exploration. In fact, as human beings, we have such a diverse set of capabilities, potentials, capacities, and powers available to us, we easily become confused about, or distracted from, the purpose of life.

According to the Sufi masters, even if we succeed in developing a whole slew of our many abilities, yet, ignore our spiritual possibilities, we will have failed in life' s primary mission. On the other hand, if we sincerely attempt to realize our spiritual capacity, but fail in relation to some of the other capacities, we, nevertheless, will have chosen the right priorities in life as far as the Sufi path is concerned.

To be sure, there are individuals who, by the grace of God, realize their spiritual capacity and, as well, realize one or more other capabilities. These people may be great musicians or artists or poets or leaders and, yet, not have neglected their spiritual dimension.

The foregoing sort of people tend to be relatively rare. They certainly are individuals of immense ability and good fortune.

They are not necessarily the standard by which most of the rest of us ought to gauge our lives. We can appreciate such lives without either feeling compelled to emulate them or feeling one' s life is somehow impoverished for not having been as accomplished as them in various ways.

The primary focus should be on realizing our essential, spiritual capacity. Indeed, according to the Sufi masters, if one goes about the task and challenge of spiritual realization properly, one, generally, will have little interest in, or inclination toward, doing anything else - except in some minimally necessary manner that still will permit justice to be done to other facets of one' s life.

When one becomes absorbed in God, everything else becomes arranged and organized as a function of that absorption. Priorities are set, and attention is given, in relation to how possibilities and activities can be accommodated to, or become expressions of, one' s spiritual orientation.

God may inspire us to do great things. Nevertheless, this is God' s will acting on us for Divine purposes. For us, on our own, to seek to do great things above and beyond the business of realizing one' s spiritual capacity is a sign of the presence of ego. Many of us sometimes mistake the call of the ego for the call of God.

God has a part waiting for us in the Divine passion play. Whether we opt for the role of the fool who squanders his or her spiritual potential, or we strive for the part of the servant of God who struggles to realize her or his essential spiritual capacity, will make no difference to the beauty and majesty of the play.

In either case, we will bring our own, inimitable style to the existential stage. In success or failure, our contribution will be unique.

Either kind of uniqueness will fit equally well into the unfolding of the play. Our choices will neither improve nor diminish the quality of the production or staging process.

There is room for heroines and heroes. However, villains and villainesses are welcome as well. If anything, the presence of antagonistic forces merely heightens the dramatic tension of the whole affair.

In one sense, the choice of roles is entirely up to us. On the other hand, there are a variety of twists, turns and mysteries involved in the plot line.

Sometimes we can have our heart set on playing the bad guy and, suddenly, our world is turned upside down and we start acting, much to our disgust, the part of the hero or heroine. At other times we may be quite prepossessed with being on the side of right and good only to find ourselves falling head first into the underside of life.

Some of these role reversals are temporary. Some of them are permanent. In all cases, they are reflections of capacities within us, and we all wonder where we will end up when the music stops and the house lights are turned on.

We have a unique potential to know God and to experience Divinity. We each have a unique capacity to give expression to the Names and Attributes of God.

Sufi masters maintain that human beings, alone in all of creation, have the capacity to reflect all the Names and Attributes of God. Other aspects of creation do reflect various dimensions of the Names and Attributes of God according to their capacity, but none of the rest of creation has the potential given to human beings.

As indicated previously, there are differences in spiritual capacity among human beings. However, each of these capacities, if realized, can reflect the full, infinite spectrum of Divine Names and Attributes. Each has the potential to do so in a unique fashion.

Because spiritual capacities are unique, there really is no basis for comparison. All jewels have their own beauty and appeal. Each jewel brings something that cannot be offered by any other jewel.

The only ground for comparison lies within the individual. The sole criterion for such comparison is what a person has been able to actualize in the way of spiritual realization, as measured against that individual' s essential spiritual capacity. The degree of success or failure in life is a function of the status of the ratio of these two factors.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Sufi Reflections Podcast No. 9

Sufi Reflections Podcast No. 9 is now ready for downloading or may be listened to in streaming format on the website. This edition includes poetry, a story entitled Absence, music, and a commentary (Terrorism, Part 2). To download this edition, please click here .

We hope you'll join us. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Story about Choice and Fate or Destiny -- or choosing one fate for another

The King had been obsessed with fate and death for as long as he could remember. He didn’t know precisely when his intense preoccupation with these intertwined realities had begun, but begun it had, and, gradually, they had come to consume nearly every waking moment.

Some children had a favorite toy which played a central role in their early lives. Other children had an imaginary friend who kept them company through difficult times. As a boy, during adolescence, and into young adulthood, the King’s constant companions had been thoughts of fate and death.

Perhaps, the triggering events which helped precipitate his condition were the many wars that had been fought during his childhood, with so many of the Kingdom’s families losing father’s, sons, and brothers. Or, maybe, the terrible plagues which had swept through the lands, taking the lives of numerous men women and children, somehow had planted a deadly seed of another kind deep within his subconscious.

Undoubtedly, the foregoing sort of factors played contributing roles, but the King suspected that the real source of his anxieties and fears started with the mysterious stranger he had encountered one day in his room. The King had not been sure whether what took place that night was a dream or something else, but the experience had stayed with him.

Whenever he permitted his thoughts to drift in that direction, the whole scene would occupy his consciousness, like an invading force. The experience was just as vivid now as it had been some three decades ago when it first occurred.

As young boys are wont to do, he had been lying in bed, listening to the sounds of the night, thinking about the events of the day, planning what he would do tomorrow, when he heard a noise of some sort – like someone clearing his or her throat. The noise had come from the corner of his room which was always in shadows at night --
even when the full moon shone through his window, as it did that evening.

All his attention was drawn to that portion of the room. He peered into the darkness of the corner, and although he couldn’t see anything, nonetheless, he felt a presence of some sort. He knew, with certainty, he was not alone.

A strange fear descended on him. He became paralyzed.

All he could do was look and listen. Every so often he remembered to breathe.

While, probably, only a few minutes passed, the event seemed to take hours to unfold. Finally, the boy who would be King heard a voice arise out of the shadows.

The voice was neither masculine nor feminine. The words had a quality which penetrated to the very core of his being.

It said:“Prince, if you wish to live forever, then, you must never hear either the complete words or music for...,” and something was whispered softly in the boy’s ear.

What was whispered was unclear. In his mind, he tried to concentrate on re-creating what had been whispered to him, but the words remained indistinct.

The boy managed to summon enough courage to stammer: “Wha...What did you say?”

There was a mocking laughter that softly began echoing in the room. The boy was near tears.

The laughter was replaced by an eerie silence. Then, once again, something was whispered in his ear – this time a little more loudly, yet, still somewhat muffled.

The boy thought he understood what had been whispered, but he wasn’t completely sure. “Please,” said the youngster, “can’t you say the name of the song clearly?”

Only the sound of the wind could be heard. Otherwise, the passage of time was marked by grains of quiet.

The strain of intently trying to listen, for who knows how long, plus the stress brought on by his fear, had completely tired the boy out, and as he was drifting off to sleep, he heard: “If you follow these instructions, you will never die.”

Soon after the eventful night, the boy’s father passed away. The Prince became the new King, and from the moment he ascended the throne, he banned all music and singing in the Kingdom.

Although the boy believed he knew what had been whispered to him that night, he wasn’t quite sure. Therefore, the safest thing to do was to create circumstances that would completely control what might happen in relation to hearing music and singing.

The boy-King’s royal edict had a profound effect on others. The Kingdom which had a long, rich musical history -- with many talented musicians, singers, and writers – was forced into a state of quiescence.

The King dispatched spies throughout the land. Whoever was caught singing or playing music was thrown into prison. The King didn’t want to take a chance that, somehow, inadvertently, he might hear the wrong song in its entirety and, as a result, bring his life to an end.

In addition, all schools were instructed to begin teaching children that music and singing were great evils. Children were given generous rewards for reporting any violations of the King’s proclamation which they might witness in their homes or
neighborhoods. Scholarships were awarded every year to those students who wrote the best essays about the ‘music problem’.

From time to time, of course, people throughout the Kingdom continued to die. However, the King lived on, and, therefore, the purpose was served.

The King became so convinced of the wisdom underlying his ban of music and singing, that he began to engage in high-risk activities, confident that he could cheat death as long as he observed the conditions of that momentous night of his childhood. The King’s boldness and daring deeds became the stuff of epic poems ... which had to be recited in monotones for fear of any hint of musical melody creeping into a recitation.

One day, while traveling in a very remote region of his country, the King met a young woman and fell deeply in love with the maiden. Happily, the woman felt the same way toward him as the King did toward her.

Soon, thereafter, the two were married, and following the honeymoon, they returned to the King’s castle. Although, initially, the King was extremely happy with his wife, events took an ominous turn not too long after they were married.

The King had been walking in the gardens which surrounded the castle, thinking about his Queen, feeling very fortunate for having her as his wife, and enjoying the love he felt for her – a love which was growing with each passing day. Just as he had become ensconced in a very pleasant reverie concerning her, he heard something which
deeply disturbed him.

Singing was drifting down from the window of the Queen’s room. Unmistakably, the voice was that of his wife.

He rushed into the castle and fled up the stairs toward the Queen’s room. He burst into his wife’s room without seeking permission, and angrily roared: “Just because you are Queen, this does not give you the right to break the Royal ban on music and

The Queen was shocked and puzzled – shocked at the King’s behavior and puzzled concerning the ban. She had never heard of such a proclamation since news of, and from, the Kingdom hardly ever reached the distant part of the country where she had been raised.

She explained this to the King. While her explanation helped calm him a little, nonetheless, he remained agitated and upset.

The King had never told anyone about his childhood experience. He did not feel comfortable in doing so now, and, yet, he could not have her singing due to his fear of what he had been told that night many years ago.

He said with great emotion: “Please, if you love me, you will not sing anymore. I beg you not to sing.”

“Is there something wrong with my voice?” she asked.

“No, there is nothing the matter with your voice,” he replied. “You sing beautifully, but, I simply cannot have this sort of thing going on in the castle.

“If I let you sing and do nothing, then, I will become known as a Royal hypocrite. I have thrown many people into prison who have violated my ban on singing and music, so how can I let you sing but not extend the same right to them.”

“Well,” inquired the Queen, “what would be so wrong about permitting people to sing and play music? Why not free the people you have imprisoned and do away with your ban?”

“I can’t explain it,” said the King, “but you don’t know what you are asking of me. All I can say is that if you love me and care for me, you will refrain from singing.”

The Queen’s face registered mixed emotions. “I do love you, she said, and if it means all that much to you, I will stop singing. On the other hand, I think you need to understand that singing is very important to my sense of peace and happiness, and, so, in a way, you don’t know what you are asking of me.

“In fact, I feel very badly for the people of your Kingdom because they are being prevented doing something which has been nurturing their souls for centuries. If you cared at all about your loyal subjects, if you loved them as a King should love those who have been entrusted to him, then, you would reverse your silly and
arbitrary ruling.”

The Queen’s words entered the King’s heart like a bolt of lightning. He could not deny the truth in her words, nor could he overlook how important a role singing and music played in the life of his wife.

If he loved her, how could he possibly deny her this great source of joy and satisfaction in her life? If he loved his subjects, how could he have treated them so cruelly?

How could he permit his own selfishness to adversely shape the lives of so many people? Yet, he loved life dearly, and, furthermore, if he were to die, then, what about the sadness which his wife, whom he knew loved him deeply, would experience in relation to his demise.

The immovable object of his childhood experience was being placed into opposition with the irresistible force of his love concerning his wife. What should he do?

For many days he reflected on this matter. His heart was being torn apart in, seemingly, irreconcilable directions.

Eventually, after struggling with the issue for some time, he realized he loved his wife more than he loved his own life. She was the empress of his heart. She was the ruler of his destiny.

He repealed his earlier edict. He freed from prison those who previously had violated the ban, and, seeking to make amends, he lavished great wealth on those whom he had wronged.

His wife was so pleased with him that she fell in love with him more than ever before. The two were very happy together, and the Kingdom was happy for them, as well.

Despite his change of heart, the King could not stop worrying about the forces which he had set loose with his new Royal proclamation. He became entranced whenever he heard his wife sing, and, yet, there was a sweet sadness which permeated this listening, as if, each time, he might be hearing his own swan song.

The King was nearing his 50th birthday, and in honor of the occasion, the Queen had arranged for a special celebration. She wanted the party to be a surprise, so for months she induced many of the courtiers to become co-conspirators in her secret preparations.

The night of the King’s birthday came, and he was taken to the great banquet hall on a pretext. There, waiting for him, was his beloved wife and many of his adoring subjects who had long since forgiven the King for his earlier ban on music.

A great meal was served. Entertainers entertained before, during, and after the meal.

Toward the end of the celebration, the Queen stood up and announced that to commemorate the occasion, she had commissioned a song to be written. The Queen, herself, would sing the song, and she would be accompanied by a small group of musicians who had been especially assembled for this occasion.

The ensemble came to center stage, the music began, and the Queen sang. Tears came to the eyes of the King, not only because of the great beauty of the melody, words, instrumentation, his wife’s voice, and the festive, joyous atmosphere of those attending the celebration, but because, somehow, he knew in his heart that this was
the song about which he had been warned so many years ago in his childhood. This was what had been whispered into his ears that night.

As he was listening, he tried to feel the fullness of life – its joys and its sorrows. He looked at everything in the hall anew and appreciated it for being part of his life, and he was grateful for having been given as many years as he had and for being opened up to the great love of his life.

As he was surveying the crowd and the musicians, the King noticed that one of the musicians was intently looking at him. The man was playing his instrument wonderfully and as if the King were the only one in the room for whom he were playing.

The King knew whom he was looking at. The King knew that Death had come for him that night.

After the song was finished and the crowd, including the King, gave a standing ovation for a performance which would take its place in the great musical tradition of the Kingdom, and make a legend of the Queen, the musician who had been focusing on the King throughout the performance silently motioned him to meet on the balcony behind the stage. Slowly, the King made his way to the balcony where the two were alone.

Death said: “Why didn’t you listen to the counsel you were given so many years ago? You could have lived for ever. You allowed yourself to be maneuvered into a street from which there is no escape. Things might have been otherwise.”

The King looked at Death. His eyes passed over the land of the Kingdom which was bathed in the light of a full moon. His vison went into the Hall where he could see his wife talking with people, receiving their congratulations for her truly marvelous performance.

He had never loved his wife more than he did at that very moment. Then, his eyes returned to the face of Death.

He said: “Sir, we all seal our own fates. We can’t avoid this.”

His gaze went back to his wife. “I just exchanged one fate for a better one. Now, let us get on with the business at hand.”

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sufi Reflections Podcast 8

This edition of the Sufi Reflections Podcast includes: Music, poetry, a story entitled Original Intent, and a commentary (Part 1 of 4) about terrorism, and more. To download this podcast, please click here . Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 09, 2006

New CD - Spiritual Peaks and Valleys (Mystical Poetry)

The Interrogative Imperative Institute is pleased to present a new CD, Spiritual Peaks and Valleys. Click on this link if you'd like to go to the website and listen to a sample from the CD:


We have received some very positive feedback on this CD and hope you will enjoy it, as well.
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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Humility is not exactly a growth industry in today's world. However, Sufi masters maintain this quality is of fundamental importance to the mystical path.

Humility is both a fruit of the path, as well as a key which, God willing, opens the door to further possibilities of spiritual growth during the mystical journey. Nonetheless, one does not seek humility as a means to something else. Humility has an intrinsic spiritual worth.

To varying degrees, most of us are lacking in humility. There are different reasons for this.

Some of this relative deficiency in humility is due to the times in which we live. From a very early age, many of us taught, both within our families and in school, to be somewhat aggressive and assertive in promoting ourselves.

Being able to impress other people, helps create opportunities. We have to let other people know whom we are and what we can do.

As long as one can deliver, as long as one can back up the self-promotion with competence, skill, talent and intelligence, then a certain amount of cocky confidence is considered by our society as not only acceptable, but admirable, if not necessary. Such confidence is thought to be an important ingredient in the quest for success and accomplishment.

On the other hand, too much of this self-promotional assertiveness, becomes annoying and, often, is counterproductive. It rubs people the wrong way and generates friction, conflict and animosity.

To grasp the boundaries of propriety in this area of self-promotion, not to mention the more difficult challenge of acquiring humility, can be a trying and humbling affair. Many hard lessons concerning self-promotion and humility have to be digested during the socialization process involving family, friends, school and work.

Unfortunately, the problems of learning how to live within the boundaries of propriety, or learning the more demanding qualities of humility, is exacerbated by many aspects of modern life. For example, all too many professional athletes, television and movie stars, recording artists, cultural icons and politicians think of arrogance and self-centeredness as virtues. Indeed, relative to many of these people, who don't seem to know the meaning of propriety, mere cocky confidence would seem like the essence of humility itself.

The "example" being set by some of these paragons of excess and braggadocio is having an increasingly devastating impact on grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities. The atmosphere they help to create is conducive to the breeding of all manner of arrogance, pride, and conceit in the minds and hearts of those who worship at the altar of their idols.

Power, money, fame, talent, and intelligence have a way of eating away at the line separating a certain degree of self-confidence and the slippery slope of pride. However, we all have the potential to cross this line even if our circumstances should be entirely modest and without, for example, celebrity status of any kind.

The Sufi masters speak of the pharaoh within each of us. This is our tendency toward feeling superior to others. The pharaoh within us is naturally inclined to a sense of self-importance and operates according to the belief it has a right to be self-indulgent, self-centered and vain.

Our pharaoh considers itself to have an exalted place in the scheme of things, no matter how small the desert may be in which it reigns supreme. Occupying such a lofty place, entitles us, or so our pharaoh believes, to treat other people with contempt and disrespect.

Conversely, our pharaoh does not tolerate being on the receiving end of contempt or disrespect from anyone else. Much of the "dissing" phenomenon that is current and leads to so many ugly confrontations is an expression of what happens when pharaoh meets pharaoh.

According to the practitioners of the Sufi path, each of us is charged with the task of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). We must convey the message of God to our pharaohs, both collectively and individually, to let our people go.

We must struggle with our pharaohs in order to journey toward the promised land of humility. To achieve humility, is, by the grace of God, to be modest in all things and to give deference and veneration to others.

Humility is about having no expectation toward others concerning what is due to one. Moreover, when one is wronged or dealt with unjustly, one is gentle, mild and forbearing in response.

Humility is to prefer others to oneself. Humility is to have an heart-felt respect for the essential worth of all human beings, as well as all of creation.

Humility is a matter of being ready to yield to the wishes of others and knowing when this yielding is appropriate to do with respect to the requirements of spiritual etiquette. Humility is filled with the wisdom of understanding the rights which have been given to others by God.

There is an humbleness about humility which places things in perspective. To have humility, is to be aware of one's faults and weaknesses. Therefore, the person of humility, neither swells up with pride at the sound of praise, nor is that individual deflated when criticism comes her or his way.

One cannot have humility without being immersed in submission before, and servitude to, God. In fact, this submission and servitude is the fertile soil out of which the flower of humility grows.

Sufi masters are very adept in showing initiates how to till the soil of servitude. Spiritual guides do this through their own beautiful example of servitude and submission.

Sufi shaykhs also care for the seeds of humility which have been planted in human beings by God. They provide spiritual nourishment and protection for the struggling seedling.

In addition, spiritual guides are very skilled in helping to remove the weeds of the individual's ego which threaten to strangle the growth of humility. In this respect, one kind of off-shoot of the ego which is particularly dangerous and must be removed from the garden of the soul is the weed of false humility.

The ego has a great capacity for mimicry. In order to serve its ultimate agenda, the ego can take on the external appearance of, among other things, humility.

The ego can appear meek, mild, submissive, humble, respectful and deferential. However, all of this is a self-serving act to enhance its own sense of self-aggrandizement. For example, when others comment on how humble and respectful the person of false humility is, inwardly such a person exults in the rays of praise extended to him or her. People of false humility live for this sort of notice and acknowledgment. For them, humility is not a spiritual issue. Rather, it is an issue of ego gratification.

People of false humility are very annoyed if people fail to take notice of their "spiritual" condition. Moreover, when the desired acknowledgment is not forthcoming, they tend to get moody, sullen, and withdrawn. They often feel people do not appreciate their true spiritual greatness.

Differentiating between true humility and false humility can be quite difficult. To do so, takes: either (a) the experienced eye and understanding of a Sufi shaykh; or, (b) the spiritual training which can be gained through the shaykh.

To have humility does not mean the individual is devoid of self-esteem. However, this sense of self worth has nothing to do with the sort of cocky confidence spoken of earlier.

One has esteem for the spiritual self because it provides us with the opportunity for realizing our relationship with God. One values the spiritual self because it is a unique gift from God which contains hidden within it a vast array of spiritual treasures, one of which is humility.