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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

Originally posted on 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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“Studies in Occultism” by H. P. Blavatsky

Originally posted on Stuff Jeff Reads:

I was first introduced to Helena Blavatsky’s writings in college. I was taking a course on the works of W. B. Yeats and had to read excerpts from Blavatsky’s works as supplemental material. Her insights into the occult helped shed light on Yeats’ more esoteric poems.

Studies in Occultism is comprised of a series of articles published by Blavatsky. The articles address the tension in the late 19th century between occultists and psychiatrists, particularly those that practiced hypnotism, a relatively new field of scientific study at that time. According to Blavatsky, hypnotism is an extremely dangerous form of black magic. In order to understand her claim, it is necessary to understand Blavatsky’s definition of black magic.

According to Blavatsky, it is intent that defines black magic. If a willful act is selfish or detrimental, then it falls into the category of black magic. She asserts that all spiritual pursuits must…

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Mysticism and Sainthood – Part 2 – Mysticism, Science and Politics

Luke Gattuso – Rosicrucians – The Science of Mysticism via Flickr

By Michael Clark

To continue from Part 1,  it’s simplistic to say that all forms of mysticism are identical.

They may seem the same to some. But, by way of analogy, people with a tin ear can’t tell the difference between the Beatles and the Bee Gees. In practically every field of human activity we find experts and novices. Experts usually discern differences, great and small, in their subject matter while novices tend to miss them. Why would mysticism be any different?

Rev. Sidney Spencer says,

Before we can fruitfully generalize, we must know something of the different forms which mysticism has assumed through the ages.¹

Having said this, the following is not a comparative study. Readers looking for a good comparative analysis should take a look at Spencer’s book, Mysticism in World Religion (1963).

One could spend a lifetime researching and writing about comparative religion, something I don’t feel called to do. So this post will be limited to a select few Catholic saints and laypersons deemed to have lead holy lives.

Science and Mysticism

Contemporary researchers and skeptics often try to scientifically test the claims of mystics. But choosing a scientific methodology appropriate to mysticism isn’t easy. Science, itself, takes several forms and is variously defined.

Many theologians, for instance, believe that theology is the Queen of all Sciences – a “master science” – because its truth claims originate from God.

Clinical psychologists, on the other hand, tend to emphasize controlled experimental models that involve hypothesized cause and effect, correlation and statistically based predictions.

And, as noted, some philosophers and postmoderns spend untold hours questioning just what science is. Some, like Michel Foucault, tend to see science as nothing more than a modern myth, a discourse created and perpetuated by power.

From this, it seems the best approach for putting interior perception to the test would to combine several models—psychological, medical, sociological, philosophical and theological. Some attempts have been made to move things in this direction, most notably the work of C. G. Jung. But nothing has really become mainstream. Not yet, anyhow.²

"It is love alone that gives worth to all...

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” – St. Teresa of Avila (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Saints Speak

My article Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The Same or Different? touches on the idea of universal salvation. Universal salvation suggests that hell isn’t eternal or, in some instances, that hell doesn’t exist.

Believers in universal salvation generally say that even cruel, perverse tyrants immediately (or eventually) enter into heaven along with those decent folk who’ve lead good lives.

This can be an intellectually attractive idea. After all, who really likes to think of souls suffering an eternal hellfire?

But after reading the diaries of Catholic saints and holy persons like St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Teresa of Avila, Sister Josefa Menéndez and the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, among others, one might become skeptical of universal salvation.

These mystics relate their interior visions, which apparently reveal the state of souls on Earth and of souls in the afterlife. Some souls on Earth are inwardly seen as holy and deserving of heaven. But others are trapped within the snares of the devil and doomed to hell unless they repent and change for the better. These mystics also speak of souls residing somewhere between these two extremes. So-called “lukewarm” souls commit various venial sins, such as gossiping or indulging in dishonorable desires. And after death they will undergo purgatorial purification, which itself is no party but, at least, temporary.

These saintly, mystical perceptions are not always oriented towards others. St. Teresa of Avila, for instance, had a vision of a nasty spot in hell where she, herself, would apparently end up in if she didn’t change her ways. Teresa was very frank about her personal battle with evil. In her autobiography she recounts an incident where “my good angel prevailed over my evil one.”3

Josepha Menéndez had regular visions of the horrors of hell, visions which could only be described as disturbing.4

Anne Catherine Emmerich had interior perceptions of ordinary people who were saints, strategically placed by God near centers of great sin and corruption. According to Emmerich these unrecognized saints suffered dearly for others around them, calling to mind the two related ideas of intercession and the taking of sin.

Modern Catholics have picked up on this with the notion of “victim souls.” However, it seems that some fanatics use this as a crutch to make themselves look better than they really are, or as a kind of denial of their own shortcomings. It’s far more attractive for some to blame personal suffering on other people’s sins than to ask themselves what they are doing wrong.

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

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

The Polish Saint Faustina Kowalska, currently favored in Catholic circles, claimed to inwardly perceive and intercede for others in spiritual distress. She often suffered and prayed for, she writes, for other people located at a significant physical distance.

Critics of mystical diaries like Kowalska’s contend that Catholic copyists or editors probably added and deleted passages to conform to their Church’s teachings about the eternity of hell. The grand ideological scheme of the Church, critics say, would encourage clerics to meddle with autobiographical texts. In their minds this would be a justified means to an end—a “necessary sin.”

This, of course, is possible but seems doubtful, especially with the more recent saints like St. Kowalska.

The original handwritten pages of St. Kowalska’s diary are available for public scrutiny and not all that she writes about clerics and her religious sisters in the typed and published Divine Mercy Diary is complimentary by any stretch of the imagination. Faustina tells how her religious superiors regularly checked her bedsheets to make sure, so she implies, she wasn’t masturbating or having wet dreams. And she does this humorously, making her sisters conform to the old stereotype of the repressed and suspicious nun. She also tells of impure priests who aren’t worthy to hear a full, uncensored confession.

If covert editing was condoned to put a nice gloss on the Church and its often challenged teachings, why wouldn’t the alleged backroom editors have removed this unflattering material from St. Kowalska’s Diary?

Other critics rightly note that the religious diaries of saints would have been read by a Superior and ultimately by the Catholic hierarchy. The saints, so their argument goes, had to appease the known and imagined biases of their religious superiors, so wrote accordingly.

A good example of this might be found in the medieval saints’ intense disdain for women:

If God loves men and women equally, the critics contend, why would a leading mystic like St. Teresa of Avila – who apparently saw through the veil separating heaven from mere worldly appearances and social conventions – write about her female inferiority?

It is enough that I am a woman to make my sails droop: how much more, then, when I am a woman, and a wicked one?5

Did Teresa really believe in gender inequality or was she just conforming to the prevailing chauvinism of her times?

The idea that saints tailor their writings to please Catholic authorities could also apply to those passages describing the nature of heaven and hell.

Proponents of this view maintain that the medieval saints knew full well they would be risking a fiery death at the stake if they contradicted the Church’s teachings, enforced by the Holy Inquisition.

In a nutshell, some believe that saintly discourse was not just spiritually but also politically motivated. And who knows. In some instances they may be right.

¹ Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963: Preface)

² In Intuition and Insight: Toward a Practical Theory of Knowledge I made a rough attempt to develop a working method to assess truth claims derived from interior perception, and to understand some of the factors that could contribute to error. This was an ambitious and daunting task, and the piece is currently in revision.

3 Follow this link » The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus and search for the relevant quotation.

4 http://goo.gl/oi5VBa

5 Follow this link » The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus and search for the relevant quotation.

Part 1 – One or Many? | Part 3 – coming soon…

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