Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Ramification of the Economic Crisis

As most people are reeling from the effects of the global economic crisis, I was delighted to read this article, which, for many of us, is a wonderful reminder of how much we have to be grateful for, despite the outer appearance. Here is the link:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Little Flute

Little Flute

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail

vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,

and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in

joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.

Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

Rabindranath Tagore - (1861-1941)

Training by Abstinence

From the second set of the Saluk Gathas of Inayat Khan:

"There is no better way of training the ego than denying it what it wants for satisfaction of its vanity. It is painful sometimes, and it often seems hard, to deny the ego all it demands, but it always results in great satisfaction. Spirituality may be called a capacity; plainly explained, it may be called a depth. In some people naturally there is this capacity, this depth; and in some it may be made. In order to collect the rainwater people dig the ground and make a capacity for the water to collect. So in order to receive the spiritual life and light, one must open oneself a capacity. The egoistic has no capacity, for it is his ego which makes the heart, so to speak, solid, giving no accommodation to the essence of God. The more one denies the demands of the ego, which satisfy its vanity, the more capacity one makes to be filled by the life of God."

This portion of the reading reminds me very much of the Christian Lenten practice of self-denial while in preparation for Easter. By giving up something we enjoy, or, perhaps, something that might be best eliminated entirely, the opening for greater spiritual capacity may be created, thereby, we may then "open our hearts, that we may hear thy voice, which constantly comes from within." This is also reflected in this period of the Christian calendar as one would crucify, along with Christ, elements that may be in one's way for deeper communion with the Divine. Afterwards, there is a resurrection of the soul, hopefully, clearer and revivified after these weeks of inner reflection.

"When the will is able to rule one's life, and not one's bodily appetites and mental fancies, then there is the reign of the Golden Age, as the Hindus say; there is no injustice and there is no reward. When man finds disturbance in his life, a lack of harmony in the external life, he must take refuge under the reign within, which is the kingdom of God. To a Sufi, this body is the Temple of God and the heart His shrine; and as long as man keeps God away from His temple, from His shrine, his limited ego reigns, and that reign is called Iron Age by the Hindus. A person who has not opened his heart to God to abide in may yet be a good person, but as his life will be involved in the activities of the world, his ego will turn from bad to worse, culminating into the worst state of mind, and it is that condition of mind which is personified in the religious term 'Satan'.

"In order to learn to realize, 'I am not, but God is', one must first deny oneself for his fellow men. Respecting another, enduring a person or an action which is uncongenial to oneself, tolerating all, overlooking the faults of others, covering the weaknesses that one finds in one's fellow men, willingness to forgive, all these things are the  first lessons in self-denial."

The final paragraphs are a reminder of the choices we can make in life. Do we want to live in the Golden Age by heeding the call of the Divine on a daily basis (which helps create harmony in our lives and others), or do we prefer the Iron Age, our lives being run by the little self and its demands?

Here are ways we can started on our personal alchemy: respect others, endure people or situations that are trying, be tolerant, overlook others' faults, cover the weaknesses of others and practice forgiveness.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Three Stages Through Which the Ego Develops

This is the last Gatha reading in the series on the Training of the Ego of Inayat Khan.

"There are three different stages through which the ego develops and reaches the ideal state. The first stage is called Ammara by Sufis, and in this the ego is satisfied by the satisfaction of the passions and the appetites."

This first aspect concerns the nafs ammara, which, in this interpretation of the Arabic word nafs would refer to the petty self, the false ego, is indicating addiction to the carnal and sensual self, which we all have (nafs can also mean the soul or breath of life: the relation to the first meaning is a good linguistic example of the covering of the physical ego over the spiritual one) . Food, sex, substance abuse or many other items could come under this category. Idries Shah would call this the commanding self, i.e., the domineering false self which runs our lives.

"From this animal stage the ego may rise to a higher stage, which is man's ego, and that stage is the gratification of vanity. This ego is termed by the Sufi Lawwama, and this stage in the beginning causes a person to act in every way that is likely to cause harm and to be hurtful and unjust to others. This continues until he learns to understand the true nature of vanity, since all good as well as all evil is born of vanity. When vanity ceases to cause man to do evil, he has reached the human stage, Mutmainna."

This next stage of development is divided into two parts. The nafs lawwama is when one is in the state of constantly blaming others or accusing himself. Over time, as one takes more responsibility for one's actions and practices forgiveness, the nafs is purified and moves into the state of nafs mutmainna, the tranquil aspect of the nafs, when one has moved beyond the lower states of ammara and lawamma and is peaceful. 

"But when vanity causes man to do good the ego becomes humane, using this word in the oriental sense, in which it means more than human, as it is derived from the words, Hu, divine, and Manas, mind.

The first lesson that the ego must learn in order to develop into the humane state is that of pride in the form of self-respect. As man has the inclination to have good clothes and good ornaments in order to appear in the eyes of others as what he considers beautiful, so he must feel the same inclination towards the building of personality by the ornamentation of every action and manner in the way that he considers good and beautiful."

Finally, when one reaches the humane state, the art of personality is at a pinnacle, its most beautiful state. Khan here is hinting at akhlaq-I Allah, or, the manner of God, in which all parts of the human being are harmonized and beautiful. Attaining this truly is an art, and, as any artist knows, must be practiced daily, with great love and patience in order for this inner beauty to manifest and flower, extending itself to all creation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Sun Never Says

All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

"You owe

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the

Hafiz (c.1320-1389)

Trans. Daniel Ladinsky