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Does mysticism bring all the great religions together?

English: Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna K...

Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna Kowalska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My view is that different faith groups are connected in the overall dynamic of becoming but they are not necessarily the same, even at the most fundamental experiential level.

That perspective is based on personal religious experience, which (obviously) I cannot share with everyone. So making a scientific claim here is problematic. However, we can, as Marko Ivan Rupnik puts it, employ a “rational-experiential” approach to religious experience.

Talking about the Catholic idea of discerning God’s will, which includes the belief that we are able to discern different spiritual influences, Rupnik says:

It is important to state that no matter how important reading about discernment can be, discernment is a reality into which one must be initiated. This initiation requires a rational-experiential approach.¹

On this point I agree. But Rupnik goes on to say that discernment never happens alone. A qualified (Catholic) spiritual director is necessary. And it’s on the second part of this claim that I raise some questions. For example,

  • How do we know that a given Catholic spiritual director is qualified to direct us correctly?
  • Does not the Catholic saint, Faustina Kowalska, write in her Divine Mercy Diary that some of her confessors were too inexperienced to understand her, and that she didn’t tell them everything because she had learned that they would get it wrong and mislead her? If this kind of misdirection could happen within the sacrament of confession, could it not happen with an assigned spiritual director?²

Anyhow, I digress. The point of this post is to stimulate debate about various kinds of religion, how they differ but could also work together.

¹ Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ. Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, Pauline Books and Media, 2006, p.4

² Later in the book she says she realized that holding back at confession was a sin, which makes for slightly confusing reading.


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Stigmata – signs of holiness or illness?


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Spirituality and Mysticism

Physics is the study of the physical universe, so we would not, offhand, expect it to give insight into the existence or nature of the nonphysical universe.  But we find that the highly abstract theory of quantum mechanics gives several versions of reality—Schrödinger’s cat both dead and alive, for example.  Thus the undoubtedly correct theory leaves us with a severe problem because it cannot explain why we are conscious of only a single version of reality.

One potential solution, the one adhered to by most physicists, is that physical reality consists of wave functions and particles rather than just wave functions.  But we have shown that there can be no particles, so this is not correct.  Another potential solution is that the wave function collapses down to just one possibility, but this also encounters severe problems.  The only solution left, the one that seems to me to be far and away the most probable way out of the dilemma, is that we each possess a soul which looks into the physical world and perceives just one of the possibilities.

Thus, rather than being antithetical to spiritual ideas, physics supports them, at the expense of the materialistic view of the world.  To say it in reverse, if scientists wish to argue that physics supports materialism, they have a great deal of work to do.  They must experimentally show that collapse of the wave function occurs (or, much less likely, that particles exist).  The ball is in the materialists’ court, and they must come up with a very good shot.

So, ignoring the caveats, quantum mechanics presents us with the most basic fact of all:

Each of us is a nonphysical soul that has a physical body.

Once one grants this, one’s life changes.

THE BRAIN

How does the nonphysical soul interact with the physical world?  By means of the physical brain.  The individual soul can perceive the quantum state of the individual physical brain and thereby indirectly perceive the state of the outer physical world.

Further, the brain has many quantum states, each corresponding to a thought.  By narrowing its attention to just one quantum state, the soul effectively makes the corresponding thought the thought we are aware of in the ordinary sense.  Or if the soul concentrates on just one of the states of the motor part of the brain, the associated bodily action becomes the action we and the external world are aware of.  Thus the brain is the means or tool by which the nonphysical soul interacts with the physical world.

Because this awareness process affects only the perception of the wave function and not the wave function itself, awareness of only one possibility does not interfere with the equations of physics.

THE NONPHYSICAL REALMS

The physical plane is not the only “place” the soul can be aware of.  There are many nonphysical realms—many ways of existing—that are very different from our world here, and the soul has the potential to be aware in any of them.

These nonphysical realms can be roughly divided into two planes, the jinn plane and the angelic plane.  The angelic plane contains those realms that are closest to the source, to God.  They are akin to light, or angelic music.  The jinn plane is constructed from thought-like forms.  It is the realm where paranormal phenomena take place, and is the source of creative inspiration and beauty.  With the proper training, these realms are accessible to us.  There are also nonphysical beings that dwell within these realms and that we can communicate with.

Our soul makes a journey that is infinitely longer than our physical lifetime.  It starts out in the angelic plane, evolves to the jinn plane, becomes associated with a body on the physical plane at physical birth, and goes back to the jinn and angelic planes at physical death.  That is, our awareness does not start at birth or cease at death.

SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

When the soul becomes associated with a physical body at birth, it has to become familiar with the body and learn how to use it.  So it has to concentrate all its awareness on the physical body, the physical plane.  In the process, the soul forgets how to be aware on the nonphysical planes.  When we become adults, our soul concentrates its awareness almost exclusively on the machinations of the brain.  This includes all the habits, prejudices, and mindsets encoded in the neurons of the brain.  The soul thinks it is the brain-body and that the physical plane, with all its problems, constitutes the whole of existence.

To break this exceedingly restrictive perspective, one must retrain the soul by doing spiritual practices.  The primary step, through observing your thoughts, watching the breath, or other concentration practices is to regain some control of the soul’s awareness.  These practices stop the soul from “mindlessly” concentrating on the uncreative, capricious, circumscribed thoughts generated by the physical brain.  Regaining control of your awareness is as difficult, and as rewarding, as any discipline you could ever undertake.  It is, in fact, at the base of all disciplines, from playing the violin to martial arts to true creativity in mathematics and the arts.

For many, simply stopping the excessive concentration of the soul on the goings-on of the brain is enough to carry you through the whole spiritual journey.  But some don’t like these concentration practices, or they need to supplement them.  In that case, one can use sound or visualization or sometimes compassion practices to begin to re-awaken one’s awareness on the nonphysical planes.

PERSONALITY AND SOCIETY

Control of our awareness, however, no matter what the rewards, does not take us to the end of the spiritual journey.  We also need to develop certain qualities—strength, insight, compassion, beauty, wisdom, the ability to accomplish, and friendship, among others.  These qualities, especially wisdom and friendship, constitute the essence of personality.  In a sense, we are obligated to develop these qualities to pay back our debt for being given the privilege of existing on the physical plane—the place of work—in the human form.

Finally, how does society fit into the spiritual journey?  Metaphorically, God created beings—centers of awareness, intelligence, and emotion—because she/he was lonely.  And so our interactions with one another contain the goal of existence, the reason existence was brought into being, the payoff.

It is not so much that we are all one—although that may be true in some sense—as that we enhance each others’ lives.  There is great, almost unfathomable potential here—it is shattering to even think about it.  But this potential is mostly unrealized.  To make it a reality, it will be necessary for men and women of good will and clear vision to work together to bring about a society where personality and friendship can fully blossom.

Casey Blood, PhD

From the early age of 7, Casey Blood was interested in spirituality, math and science. His parents encouraged him to become an astronaut…


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On the subject of Sufism

Many westerners discovered Islam through Sufism, while others discovered Sufism through Islam. So what is Sufism?

One of the most eloquent definitions of Sufism comes from Samnun who said Sufism is “to not possess anything nor be possessed by anything”. Short as it maybe, this definition summarizes the essence of the Sufi tradition. Indeed, Sufi practitioners strive towards becoming a saint (wali) by performing prayers and contemplation beyond what is required, leading an ascetic lifestyle, leaving behind fancy clothing, food, housing, etc., and steering clear from life’s temptations. As such, a Sufi renounces worldly pleasures and possessions that invariably end up “possessing” us.

The picture becomes clearer when you add Al Jariri’s definition of Sufism. “Sufism consists of entering every exalted quality (khulq) and leaving behind every despicable quality”. This second definition complements Samnun’s, focusing the spotlight on qualities that a Sufi should strive to acquire (exalted qualities) in order to repair the heart turning it away from the material things that keep him from really seeing/viewing the Truth (Allah).

Perception of God (The Truth) can only occur according to Sufi tradition when the seeker (Sufi) frees himself of every material attachment that imprisons his spirit. When he turns away from all else, only then can he perceive the presence of the Divine.

Sufism is also about pure Love. The Sufi loves his Creator and this love guides all of his actions. When this pure love grows to fill him completely, the duality of self and Creator fades and the self dissolves into the One (Creator). Given the preceding, Sufism has been described by some, as the realm or science of qualities. Conversely, others called it the spiritual philosophy of Islam, or the philosophy of divine truths.

Understanding Sufism is to recognize that it is a philosophy of life that encompasses all of these definitions. But, that it is above all a personal experience, an individual journey to Knowledge that is attained through honesty with the Creator and devoutness to Him. Sufism involves the ritual purification of traits deemed reprehensible while adding praiseworthy qualities. This practice according to Sufi scholars is the perfection of worship (ihsan) as revealed by the angel Gabriel to the prophet of Islam Muhammad: “Worship and serve Allah as you are seeing Him and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you”.

A powerful component of Sufism is its requirement of Sufis to show others genuine love and compassion. This requirement which is at the core of the Islamic tradition aims at building a community on the foundations of love, happiness and goodness.

As such, a comprehensive description of Sufism should highlight the roles of will and spiritual love in fueling the Sufi’s decision to begin his journey of spiritual awakening in search for the Truth, leaving behind everything else.

This experiential journey takes the individual through several stations in his ascension: Betterment of his qualities and focus on morality, the consumption of the self in the absolute Truth, perception/viewing of the Divine, and tranquility and happiness.

In conclusion, we will use the words of Ibn Ajiba to summarize Sufism as the “science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits”.

About the Author

Jawad Tahiri is an experienced educator and trainer. He holds a Master of Education in Educational Technology Leadership and is a PhD…


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William James and the trivialization of religious experience

The Appearance of the Holy Spirit before Saint...

The Appearance of the Holy Spirit before Saint Teresa of Ávila, Peter Paul Rubens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason so many people trivialize religious experience (i.e. mysticism) is because, well, they’re just not “there.” By way of analogy, when the majority of people believed the earth was flat, suggesting it might be round could invoke ridicule.

Likewise, those experiencing the numinous tend to be careful, even shrewd. As Jesus told us, it’s not wise to cast your pearls before swine. But before we artificially elevate all alleged mystics to the realm of sainthood, we’d do well to remember that mysticism is tricky and prone to error.

So, in a sense, the scoffers are not entirely wrong. There are some nuts out there. And some mystics might need to tweak their worldview a bit. Like most things in life, this subject area is not a simple one. — MC


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Mysticism and action

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Reflections Inspired by a Friend

Shamagaia

Satyr&peasant
The Satyr and The Traveller, Walter Crane 1887. Image source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Well for me, it’s Eastern body, Western mind, and the process of integrating those two..

My energetic and healing practices are heavily influenced by Taoist, Buddhist and Ayurvedic teachings, but my psychology is embedded within a Western Alchemic philosophy, and far from being discouraged by this seemingly conflicted state of affairs, I am absolutely thrilled by the dynamic opportunities for transformation that it represents.

When I understood far less about my path of self-transformation, I felt short-changed by what I perceived as a disparate and semi-irrelevant diffusion of clunky Western wisdom traditions, and leveled my intellectual misguidedness and emotional frustration at the forces of history, that I identified as having robbed me of the layperson’s ability to access my spiritual birthright. The truth is, that you cannot be robbed of something that has always been, and…

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