(Detail of Christ, during the Last Judgment, showing the two paths of awakening, indicated by the flowers of spirituality for the virtuous, and the sword of condemnation and justice for sinners; artist: Memling)
This is a transcription of an audio lecture from The Sufi Path of Self-knowledge, originally given live at the Chicagoland Gnostic Academy:
Gnosticism pertains to a very special form of self-knowledge or self-analysis, popularized through the famous Greek maxim on the Temple of Delphi: Homo Nosce Te Ipsum, otherwise translated as: “Man, know thyself, and you will know the universe and the Gods!” The Greek word Gnosis is knowledge, but not intellectual knowledge. It is knowledge that which we acquire from our experience, that which we gain from our perception. It is not based on supposition, theory, belief, skepticism, or argumentation. It is something that we know for a fact, and there is no convincing otherwise. Gnosis is the defined result of our actions and is verified through experimentation in a scientific manner. We look at scientific facts, spiritual facts.
For as the founder of the modern Gnostic tradition, Samael Aun Weor, stated in The Revolution of the Dialectic:
“Gnosis is lived upon facts, withers away in abstractions, and is difficult to find even in the noblest of thoughts.”
Therefore when we approach spirituality, when we seek to understand religion, we must be precise. We must be specific and technical with our terminology, with our approach, our analysis, practice and methodology. We cannot indulge in vain, ambiguous and incipient beliefs, conceptualizing that we are a certain way, that we are “spiritual” because we think a certain way or belong to a specific group, that we are somehow special beings deserving praise. Because the truth is, when we examine the facts, when we look at humanity, when we look at ourselves, when we examine our daily sufferings, we find that this planet is in chaos. Many people amongst so-called “spiritual” circles talk about a new Golden Age, and that we are in it. Yet if we soberly examine the evidence, we find that humanity is not in a Golden Age, but has precipitated itself on the path of destruction.
Everybody suffers. No one on this planet, no sentient being, no person that is met on the streets of the cities, can be said to be happy, specifically since such people suffer incredibly. But why? Why do we suffer? What causes our pain? We can easily blame the government, the political establishment, the Democrats, the Republicans, or our friends, our job, co-workers, our spouse. These things belong to the external world, and sadly this is all people think about. But what are the secret, internal triggers that produce the calamities we are now all too familiar with? What in us truly makes us suffer and why?
All of humanity’s destructive habits, addictions, desires, and wishes run contrary to divine law. Just as the physical universe is governed by laws, so too is spiritual life. There are laws that govern the establishment, development, and perfection of the soul, laws delivered unto humanity through all the world’s great prophets, religions and scriptures. The reason why people live in such disharmony and agony is due to their internal, psychological imbalances, their inability to conform their psyche, consciousness, or mind, towards the commandments, laws and instructions given by the messengers of the divine.
Therefore when beginning these studies, we ask ourselves the following fundamental questions:
“Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we living for? Why are we living?” —Samael Aun Weor, Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology
Everyone believes that they know themselves, that they are conscious beings, that they know what they do, and yet the facts speak contrary to this. We firmly believe in our customs, our language, and our creed—our job, country, flag, party, name, culture, race, and habits, are qualities born in time and that die in time. And yet the consciousness, the soul, does not belong to these things. Therefore, who are we?
People believe they are awake. People believe that they know themselves. Likewise, in spiritual studies, many people have different conceptions of the term “awakening,” which is the focus of this lecture. Countless so-called “spiritual” groups entertain ideas regarding awakening which are contradictory, inconclusive, vague, ambiguous, obscure, or simply confusing, definitions that are in conflict with the scriptures given by the great masters of spirituality, whether Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Moses, and the prophets. Awakening is a popular term, but how is it practical? What does it mean to awaken?
Some people use the term awakening to relate to an inspiration, a sudden inclination to study religion or spirituality. This is basic. This is, however, a fundamental first step. Also, the awakening we seek to understand is not physical. It is not only the awakening of our physical senses when arriving from sleep: our sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. Neither is awakening related to thought, thinking, concepts, sentimentalizing, believing, theorizing, holding on to ideas about ourselves or conjecturing about a philosophy with the intellect, believing something fully with our heart, yet not really knowing anything.
As I mentioned, awakening has nothing to do with our name, our job, our language, customs, culture, habits, beliefs, and family. These things came with birth and they end with death. But the consciousness, that which we call soul, is beyond these things. The consciousness belongs to the divine, to God. When I refer to God, I am not referring to an anthropomorphic old man sitting on a cloud of tyranny dispensing thunderbolts and lightning upon this poor ant-hill of a humanity. That is not the God we speak of, but God as an intelligence, as Being, as presence, light, cognizance, which we must learn to access within ourselves when we know how.
In strict esoteric or secret Buddhism, only a buddha, a master, knows himself completely and is free from suffering. An awakened one is a buddha, which is a term originating from the Sanskrit root word budh, signifying “awakening,” “consciousness,” “cognizance,” which also relates to the word Bodhi, meaning “wisdom,” or “enlightenment.” This is cognizance of one’s inner divinity, the root of life and our most genuine happiness, which begins as a spark, and transforms into a flame when we know how to cultivate this light.
This profound state of awakening pertains to knowing divinity directly, the pure, pristine, and clear consciousness of nature’s laws and the soul’s conformity to them, devoid of personhood, a universal state of being. This is a result of cause and effect, and produces joy, freedom from defect or flaws. This psychological state transcends all pain, self, and conception, as demonstrated in the story of Gautama Buddha Shakyamuni questioned by a brahman.
A Hindu priest was met by the Buddha. Being astounded by Gautama’s happiness, peace, and presence, he successively asked him, “Are you a deva (a god)?” “Are you a gandhabba (heavenly being)? Are you a yakkha (a nature spirit)?” To which the Buddha replied:
"The fermentations by which I would go
to a deva-state,
or become a gandhabba in the sky,
or go to a yakkha-state and human-state:
Those have been destroyed by me,
ruined, their stems removed.
Like a blue lotus, rising up,
unsmeared by water,
unsmeared am I by the world,
and so, brahman,
I'm awake." —Dona Sutta
People believe that they are awake. Having energy in the morning, getting up from the sleep of the physical body, constitutes a minimal level of perception and consciousness. The type of awakening we speak of in our Gnostic studies relates to spiritual perception, the development of divine faculties, which some refer to as out-of-body experiences, astral travel, lucid dreaming, awakening one’s awareness within the dream state or dream world, to speak face to face with divinity, with angelic beings, directly. This is something very clear and sharp. These are not hypothetical situations. They are not vague, cloudy, obscure, disorganized, nonsensical, chaotic, like the dreams most people relate when they seek interpretations.
The awakening we refer to is the direct result of putting specific scientific procedures into place, a new form of discipline we engage with. Awakening has one purpose: to gain knowledge of divinity by understanding the causes of suffering in ourselves, thereby removing such causes through cognizance, comprehension, and superlative analysis resulting from experience. We seek to change how we perceive life by removing that which filters our perception, in order that we possess pure, objective and divine cognizance. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes!”
As you see in this opening image, we have Sufi disciple, a master of the mystical or esoteric teachings of Islam, in prayer. Islam in Arabic means “submission to God’s will.” We must submit to the divine will and divine laws if what we want is to become a new being, an awakened one, a phoenix bird that rises from out of its own ashes.
We are going to examine the nature of awakening in relation to the Sufi tradition, the mystics of Islam and of the Middle East, due to the simplicity, profundity, and accessibility of such teachings for beginners, as well as to show the universal nature of this wisdom.
He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord
There are levels and levels of consciousness. Consciousness is light, the capacity to perceive not only physical phenomena, but spiritual noumena, the truth behind things, spiritual principles.
The 14th Dalai Lama explained that we must develop the conviction, based on practical works, that the consciousness has the capacity to expand to an infinite degree. Such a statement parallels the Qur'an's teaching in verse 35 of Surah al-Nur, the Light Surah, which profoundly states: “Light upon light!” And as Prophet Muhammad exclaimed in verse 114 of Surah Ta Ha: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge!”
The path of self-knowledge can be depicted through a marvellous ladder, wherein we ascend through the application of spiritual discipline and works. This is the same Jacob's ladder in the Old Testament, whereby he witnessed the angels ascending and descending.
The Sufis corroborate the teachings of the Greek Temple of Delphi through the following proverb: “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” Likewise, they also explain how to arrive at consciousness of divinity within oneself through the application and understanding of spiritual practice.
Spiritual law, practice or discipline pertains to Sharia in Arabic, which in Sufism does not literally pertain to the exoteric, punitive laws of Muslim countries, but to how we awaken consciousness so as to know divinity in different levels, degree by degree. It is by following good conduct in our daily life that we will come to know divinity, the path, the ladder that ascends to higher states of consciousness, the way of experience, the truth, known as Haqiqah in Sufism. Here is what the Sufi master Al-Qushayri had to say about this topic in his Risalah: Principles of Sufism:
The divine Law commands one to the duty of servanthood. The Way, the inner reality, is the contemplation of divine lordship. Outward religious practice not confirmed by inner reality is not acceptable. Inner reality not anchored by outward religious practice is not acceptable. Divine Law brings obligation upon the creation, while the Way is founded upon the free action [or experience] of the Real. The divine Law is that you serve Him. The Way is that you see Him.
The divine Law is doing what you have been ordered to do. Haqiqah is bearing witness to what He has determined and ordained, hidden and revealed. I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say that God's saying [in the Opening Chapter, Al-Fatihah of Al-Qur'an] iyyaka nabudu—"You we worship"—preserves the outward practice, the divine Law. Iyyaka nastain—"to You we turn for help"—establishes the inner reality, the Way.
Know that religious obligation is a spiritual reality in that it was made necessary by His command. And spiritual reality, as well, is a religious obligation, in that the realizations of Him were also made necessary by His command. —Al Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
This is the law of cause and effect. If you want to awaken your conscious, spiritual perception, unfiltered, unobstructed by limited notions of self, you must fulfill the requisites of religion: be a good person; do not lie; do not steal; do not fornicate; do not adulterate; do not commit sexual misconduct; do not steal; etc.
Certain behaviors and habits are the result of conditioned consciousness, defects and errors, and constitute actions that produce and perpetuate suffering. Positive, virtuous actions are the result of awakened, unconditioned and free consciousness, of divine remembrance, and help to produce and perpetuate happiness for oneself and others. Positive actions aid us in removing the conditions of our psyche, hence the emphasis within Sufism for purity of mind, heart, and body.
There are some who believe that the etymological meaning of the term Sufi designates the 'pure wool' or 'purity' of soul, Suf, that adorns the great initiates, the great practitioners.
Therefore, if we want to realize our inner divinity, we must cultivate the causes and conditions for the fruition of that realization within us, through psychological purification. When we purify our consciousness, we ascend to higher levels of consciousness, of being. If we give in to desire, our conditioned psyche, habits, and egotism, strengthening our negative qualities, we descend and enter inferior levels of consciousness or being.
Different religions have different ways of explaining good behavior, of how to cultivate virtue. In the Gnostic tradition we have a vast array of practices and teachings about how to discipline ourselves so that we can experience the way, the truth, and the divine life.
Therefore, this scriptural affirmation goes against millions of books being written for a modern, “New Age” public, which affirm that anyone can experience the divine by doing whatever they want, by creating their own mantras (sacred sounds), by creating their own reality, by giving into their egotistical desires. This is all one hundred percent subjective and harmful, because it demonstrates a profound ignorance of cause and effect, a fundamental law of nature. If you feed the conditions that trap your consciousness, you will enter into suffering. If you want to free the consciousness of its conditions, you must break the cages that trap and enslave your true nature, so as to achieve genuine contentment and happiness.
If you want to know yourself and therefore know divinity, you must enact the causes for that result. You cannot change the law. Ignorance of the law does not procure exclusion from its results. Therefore, ignorance is the worst of sins, according to Socrates
Knowledge and Comprehension
Which brings us to our next point. If you wish to know divinity, you must deeply understand the laws that lead to its fruition based on your experience. Intellectual knowledge or memorizing information is not enough. There must be profound comprehension.
Knowledge and comprehension are different. Knowledge is of the mind. Comprehension is of the heart. —Samael Aun Weor, Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology
There are hundreds of thousands of spiritual teachers in the world today, many who have memorized the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita by heart, and yet they do not demonstrate the ethics and virtues propounded by their religion, as illustrated by numerous cases of sodomy, molestation of children by priests, and other horrible crimes committed in the name of “spiritual brotherhood” and “religion.” People may have a lot of knowledge in the mind about religion, and yet fail to fulfill even one precept given by their tradition. This is why Christ taught his disciples to be vigilant, stating: “By their fruits you will know them.”
People know many things about God, astral travel, awakening consciousness in dreams in order to converse with the angels, etc. Yet have they experienced these truths themselves? Likewise, we may have many cherished beliefs and knowledge regarding our terrestrial identity, and yet we fail to comprehend who we are in a deep manner. This ignorance is illustrated in the case of some alcoholics who, knowing their addiction is harmful, continue to engage in bad behaviors, in drinking to excess. This example shows us that while we may have a lot of knowledge of right and wrong, we still may lack comprehension of the consequences.
If we place our hand on a hot stove, we will retract our hand in pain. Therefore, we have gained a superficial form of comprehension, of gnosis, that to put our hand on a hot stove is to get burned. Sadly, with many of our engrained habits and customs, we continue to indulge in behaviors contrary to divine laws and fail to see the results. We may know it is wrong to be angry and yell at another person, yet we may do it anyways. We may know it is wrong to be sarcastic to someone in a given instant, and yet fail to restrain our negative comments.
If we want to awaken, we must learn to comprehend what behaviors are detrimental to ourselves and others, and not act on them, to see these psychological tendencies for what they are and not allow them to persist and subsist in our minds. This is comprehension; we know in our hearts that something is essentially wrong, and therefore we behave accordingly. This is very different from having a concept in our heads. Instead, this is the voice of conscience, of ethics, of spirituality, speaking to us.
Our minds are tarnished and imperfect as a result of too much negativity, conditioning, and false knowledge, and not enough comprehension. The remedy is to deepen our awareness of divinity, to purify ourselves and to follow the ethical conduct of the great religions. For as Prophet Muhammad taught:
"There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish for the heart is the remembrance of God.” —Hadith: Sahih Al-Bukhari
Likewise, awakening and comprehension are synonymous. True spirituality or understanding is developed through following the heart, as the Sufi master Ibn ‘Arabi explains:
May God open the eyes of your heart, shedding His divine light. The angelic realm, which contains the potential of future creation, incorporeal existences, the meaning of all and everything to come, and divine power, is the element from which the visible world is created and, therefore the material world is under the influence and domination of the angelic realm. The movement, the sound, the voice, the ability to speak, to eat and to drink is not from the existences themselves in the visible, material world. They all pass through the invisible world of the angelic realm. We think that we see with our eyes. The information, the influences of perception, are due to our senses—while the real influence, the meaning of things, the power behind what sees and what is seen, can be reached neither by the senses, nor by deduction and analysis, comparison, contrasts, and associations made through intellectual theories. The invisible world can only be penetrated by the eye and the mind of the heart. Indeed, the reality of this visible world also can only be seen by the mind and eye of the heart. What we think we see is but veils which hide the reality of things; things whose truth, whose meaning may not be revealed until these veils are lifted. It is only when the dark veils of imagination [fantasy] and preconception are raised that the divine light will penetrate the heart, enabling the inner eye to see. Then either the sunlight or the light of a candle will become a metaphor for the divine light. —Ibn ‘Arabi: Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom
All of us are hypnotized by our mind, by our projected self-image. We have many fantasies about who we are, and yet we fail to see ourselves in our true reality. This is evidenced by the fact that other people never see us as we see ourselves, which is always a source of tremendous conflict. We have a lot of knowledge in our heads that we identify with, such as our name, language, customs, education, etc., and yet our suffering attests to the fact that we do not comprehend the genuine sources of our suffering, which are constituted by our fears, attachments, aversions, and ignorance.
True awakening occurs when we know how to put knowledge in its proper place, through deep comprehension of the heart.
As you see in this graphic, knowledge belongs to the horizontal line of life: knowledge we gain from birth, life, to death. On the left of this horizontal path is our genesis, followed by childhood, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, children, old age, decrepitude, and death towards the right. This is the path of terrestrial knowledge, which is necessary and fundamental for living in the world in which we are. But comprehension is the vertical path, an ascension to higher levels of being, ways of being, in conjunction with the present moment, found at the precise point where these two beams intersect, in the middle.
We cannot avoid the horizontal line of life, but we can learn to transform it by ascending to a higher way of being, a superior level of consciousness. We must learn to respond to life with a sense of ethical discipline, rectitude, and love, which constitutes the path of the heart above. Learning to behave in a conscious manner helps us to ascend to higher ways of being, levels of being, along the vertical path. Ascending this vertical line, we come to experience heaven or heavenly states as defined by some religions.
Yet if we continue as we are, identifying with psychological states of hatred, anger, pride, fear, sarcasm, lust, desire, etc., these negative qualities will take us down this vertical path towards submerged states of consciousness. The vertical path below signifies states of suffering, chaos, affliction, and pain. This is known as hell or diabolical psychological states within religion. If we do not change our ways of being, we will eventually descend on that path where we will awaken into more suffering and pain than we currently experience.
The Paths of Life and Death
The Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions, as well as the Eastern mystical doctrines, emphasize that there are two fundamental paths of awakening: one of a higher way of life, and another towards deepening states of suffering.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. —Daniel 12:2
We can awaken and liberate consciousness from its conditions: pride, hate, greed, avarice, and the infernal qualities known in some traditions as sins or defects. Or we can strengthen our cage: our animalistic qualities of gluttony, aggression, and destruction. The choice is ours based on our behavior.
Look at humanity! What path has it chosen? Have you ever reflected on this? With world-wide acts of prostitution, adultery, degeneration; wars emerging here, there, and everywhere, are the signs not clear for us? Human beings are worse off than they have ever been, which is why many artists have depicted this spiritual dilemma of “To be or not to be” by painting the Last Judgment.
As you see in this image, Christ above represents the highest aspect of consciousness or divinity that we can aspire to within ourselves. To his right are those souls who know how to obey divine laws, thereby developing peace, happiness, compassion, conscious love, charity, and faith. They ascend up the steps into the temples of the sacred mysteries.
Those beings who never sought to change, who indulged in desire, who fed and saturated their diabolic conditions of mind, enter into regions of flames, symbolic of states of suffering and a deepening awareness of their psychological limitations and imprisonment.
While heaven and hell are referenced as places in the cosmos and in nature, these more importantly refer to levels of being within us, ways of behaving.
Does our consciousness resonate with compassion, virtue, philanthropy, altruism, and happiness for others? Or do our states of consciousness vibrate with wrath, avarice, doubt, envy, and dissatisfaction with the happiness of others? Examine yourself to see where your consciousness gravitates, and be sincere. Sincerity is the doorway leading to awakening in an unconditioned, positive light.
In the bottom center of this image is the archangel Michael, who is weighing the deeds of souls in accordance with their actions. Just as there is a record in a physical court of law for transgression, likewise do the heavenly masters or heavenly beings, the buddhas or angels, evaluate our actions based on facts, evidence, and full consciousness of our state, in which the Qur’an represents as two books, one for the virtuous and one for the vicious, wherein are inscribed all the deeds we perform.
The record of the vicious is indeed in Sijjīn.
And what will show you what is Sijjīn?
It is a written record.
Woe to the deniers on that day,
who deny the Day of Retribution;
and none denies it except every sinful transgressor. —Qur’an 83:7-12
The record of the pious is indeed in Illīyūn.
And what will show you what is Illīyūn?
It is a written record,
witnessed by those brought near [to God.]
Indeed the pious shall be amid bliss,
observing, [as they recline] on couches. —Qur’an 83:18-23
Sijjīn is typically associated with the lowest hells or states of conditioned perception. Illīyūn can refer, in Islam, to the highest heavens, a mountain peak that overlooks everything. This symbolizes having a consciousness so high and elevated that it perceives all things, all phenomena, without conditioning.
The Qur’an, the mystical book of the Muslims, refers to gardens of paradise and the flames of infernal passion, desire, of thirst insatiable, as representations of mind. We repeat: these are not just places, but ways of being. We gravitate to places in this great nature based on the qualities of our mind. We vibrate with dimensions in the cosmos based on our level of being.
Likewise with our daily life.
Nobody can deny the fact that there are different social levels. There are churchgoing people, people in brothels, farmers, businessmen, etc.
In a like manner, there are different Levels of Being. Whatever we are internally, munificent or mean, generous or miserly, violent or peaceful, chaste or lustful, attracts the various circumstances of life.
The lustful person will always attract scenes, dramas and even lascivious tragedies in which he will become involved.
A drunkard will always attract drunkards and will always be seen in bars or taverns; this is obvious…
What will the usurer attract? The selfish one? How many problems? Jail? Misfortunes? —Samael Aun Weor, Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology
Sadly, humanity is addicted to negativity, and is averse towards the divine life, for as John Milton stated in Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Simply examine what people worship today. Turn on the television and you will find entertainment and shows on killing, on cruelty, on deception, criminality. People have made a heaven of hell, being addicted to negative behavior. Likewise when someone teaches the masses about the heavenly path, people scorn such a prophet or messenger, and may eventually try to kill him, as we saw with the crucifixion of Jesus, the poisoning of Buddha and Socrates, the persecution of Muhammad, etc.
The Publican and the Pharisee
So we must be profoundly analytical and honest with ourselves. We have to take a self-inventory, known by the Sufis as muhasabah, and observe what qualities we have in abundance and what we lack. We must learn to consider ourselves as strangers by observing our own minds in action, perceiving ourselves from the perspective of the free consciousness, which must in turn awaken and comprehend the other conditioned parts of the psyche.
This work on oneself goes beyond our concepts of good and bad. We must be sincere and comprehend how none of us are completely innocent in life. If we consider that we are “spiritual” people, filled with such-and-such good qualities, virtues, we must be willing to consider how we may be mistaken. Otherwise, why would we change?
A thing is good when it suits us and bad when it does not. Within the rhythms of poetry, crime is also concealed. There is much virtue in the villain and much evil in the virtuous…
…Even though it may appear incredible, crime also hides in the very perfume of prayer.
Crime disguises itself as a saint. It uses the best virtues; it presents itself as a martyr and even officiates in the sacred temples. —Samael Aun Weor, The Great Rebellion
Simply look at some priests today who are molesting children, and yet who consider themselves to be holy people. Jesus warned about such hypocrites in his parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, whereby a rich priest went to pray in the temple, congratulating himself and boasting of his good qualities, and denigrating a poor man in the corner who was beating his chest in repentance, feeling too guilty to be forgiven for his deeds. Christ said that the poor man’s prayer was granted, since it was sincere, whereas the Pharisee, the so-called spiritual person over-confident with himself, was not. A Pharisee is a person from any religion who thinks and believes they are holy and justified, when in truth they only believe, having no development.
Therefore, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” –Matthew 19:24
To be rich is to feel oneself self-sufficient, especially from divinity. The Qur’an as posits a similar parable in Surah 18: The Cave, Verses 32 to 43:
Draw for them the parable of two men for each of whom We had made two gardens of vines, and We had surrounded them with date palms, and placed crops between them.
Both gardens yielded their produce without stinting anything of it. And We had set a stream gushing through them.
He had abundant fruits, so he said to his companion, as he conversed with him: ‘I have more wealth than you, and am stronger with respect to numbers.’
He entered his garden while he wronged himself. He said, ‘I do not think that this will ever perish, and I do not think that the Hour will ever set in. And even if I am returned to my Lord I will surely find a resort better than this.’
His companion said to him, as he conversed with him: ‘Do you disbelieve in Him who created you from dust, then from a drop of [seminal] fluid, then fashioned you as a man?
But I [say], “He is Allah, my Lord,” and I do not ascribe any partner to my Lord.
Why did you not say, when you entered your garden, “[This is] as Allah has wished! There is no power except by Allah!” If you see that I have lesser wealth than you and children,
maybe my Lord will give me [something] better than your garden, and He will unleash upon it bolts from the sky, so that it becomes a bare plain.
Or its water will sink down, so that you cannot obtain it.’
And ruin closed in on his produce, and he began to wring his hands for what he had spent on it, as it lay fallen on its trellises. He was saying, ‘I wish I had not ascribed any partner to my Lord.’
He had no party to help him, besides Allah, nor could he help himself.
So what are we? Are we rich, psychologically, feeling that we possess virtues that we do not? Or are we poor, recognizing that we have nothing, and from this honest foundation ascend towards the Being, acquiring genuine knowledge?
The Sufis state that the greatest quality or foundation for the disciple to have is poverty, to feel oneself as poor, to recognize one's true lack of spirituality, since humility opens the pathway for elevation. Wherever this sense of “me,” “myself,” or “I,” is absent, we experience the plenitude of the Being. Or as Samael Aun Weor wrote in The Aquarian Message: “God seeks the nothingness in order to fill it.”
Genuine Awakening and the Tree of Life
Wherever the delusion of your selfhood appears – there’s hell. Wherever “you” aren’t – that’s heaven. –Abū Sa’īd in Ibn Munawwar: Asrār at-tawḥīd, ed. Shafī‘ī-Kadkanī, 299
Our egotistical sense of self obscures us from accessing the heavenly realms of levels of being, represented by this graphic. This is known as the Tree of Life in the Book of Genesis, and is a map of awakening: from the lowest states of matter, energy and consciousness, to the most refined, synthetic, essential, and spiritual at the top. This is known as the Kabbalah, which comes from the Hebrew word: קבל Kabbel / qabal: to receive. This is the spiritual wisdom we gain by awakening and liberating consciousness in these ten spheres of modes of being.
The Tree of Life signifies the multi-dimensionality of nature, which penetrates, co-penetrates, and subsists together and integrally without confusion. These ten spheres or modes of being are with us here and now, but we are typically not aware of them.
We are at Malkuth, which in Hebrew means: Kingdom, the physical body. Above this physicality we have vitality, emotionality, mentality, will, consciousness, spirit, and the highest divinity, known as logos, Kristos, or Christ, the primordial root energy at the basis of every fundamental cosmic unit. These are distinct gradations of consciousness, energy, matter and perception that we will examine with more detail in subsequent lectures.
However, we will state that this map is essential for understanding our inner spiritual experiences, such as through meditation or the study of dreams. This graphic illustrates for us where we are in a given moment, at what level of consciousness we gravitate towards. The spheres above Malkuth are the heavens, whereas the shadow of the Tree constitute the Klipoth or inferior dimensions, negative states of being, the submerged, conditioned and infraconscious aspects of the soul, known in religions as hell.
Remember that these spheres are with us here and now, but we are not awakened to them yet. We may feel that we are active in our physical bodies, but yet may not be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, or impulses. This lack of awareness of what we are thinking, feeling, and doing in a given moment of the day signifies that we do not know the Tree of Life within us. Simply try to review everything you did in a given day, down to the smallest detail, and see if there are not spaces or gaps in your memory! Awakening means to change all that, to not be unconscious or unaware of any aspect of our daily life.
The important thing to remember is that if we want to ascend up the vertical path of being, of awakening, we must do so by conquering ourselves and dominating our lower passions, so that we no longer remain in “hell,” the inferior qualities of being, but instead rise to a higher way of being, the Tree of Life.
The Present Moment
So how do we awaken? We have presented and explained the need to awaken, but now we are going to elaborate on the methods for doing so.
Many teachings in this day and age speak of mindfulness, awareness, attention, consciousness, and perception. There are also many doctrines about intuition or insight into the present moment in which we find ourselves. These are all basic introductions or kindergarten steps for accessing complete awakening of our divine potential.
Awakening unconditioned perception begins in this present instance in which we find ourselves, at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical beams, the conjunction of the line of life or knowledge and the line of being.
I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say that the “now”—waqt—is that in which you are. If you are in the world, your “now” is this world. If you are in the next world [the higher dimensions of the Tree of Life], your “now” is the next world. If you are in joy, your “now” is joy. If you are in sorrow, your “now” is sorrow. He means by this that the present moment is that which has dominance over a person. —Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri
Every genuine spiritual endeavor begins by learning to pay attention and to not be distracted by memories, thoughts, daydreams, sentimentality, fears, problems, etc. It means to expand and heighten one’s consciousness of the present moment.
Wherever you are, do not forget what you are doing. Simply be. If you are driving you car, don't think of other things. Pay attention to your mood, your thoughts, your psychological states. Do not let your attention be dominated and distracted by other things, but learn to dominate the moment through vigilance.
The Sufis elaborate on the importance of solely paying exclusive attention to the present moment, without looking forward or backwards in time:
Waqt [the present moment] may refer specifically to the time in which one is. Some people say that the present moment is between the two times, that is, the past and the future. And they say that the Sufi is the “son of his moment.” This means that he occupies himself immediately with whatever sort of devotion should come first in a given moment. He bases himself upon what is required of him at the time. It is said, “The dervish cares for neither the past nor the future of his moment: he cares for the moment in which he is.” And regarding this, “To be preoccupied with what escaped you in a moment that has passed is to waste a second moment.” –Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Al-Qushayri states that the true disciple bases himself upon what is required of him at the time. All of us have responsibilities in this physical plane, work, employment, familial duties, etc. Therefore, are we certain that we are paying attention to what we are doing as we fulfill our obligations? Remember that Gnosis is precisely the doctrine of momentariness. We have to stop thinking about the past or the future, and simply look and what is going on around and within us. It is by paying attention to the contents of our psyche during social interactions that we learn to discover hidden defects whose existence we never suspected.
Therefore, how do we interact with certain people? Why? What motivates us to speak a certain way? To gossip? To lie? To criticize? Have we ever considered the secret motives of our speech? For why we might feel disdain towards someone we deem less important to us? To those we think are inferior? What qualities surge in our mind around people who provoke us? Whom we dislike? Our sense of pride? Are we sure that we do not possess the same qualities of the person we ostracize and condemn? Have we ever questioned ourselves when interacting with others?
Interactions with people is a full length mirror by which we can comprehend our own faults, because if we are attentive only of the present moment, without invoking the past or the future, we find that our psychological tendencies, desires, and conditioning emerge within the screen of our perception, within our attention when we know how to direct it inward. This is known as muhasabah, inner-accounting, precisely because we must make a psychological account of the qualities we lack and the qualities we have in abundance. We have to self-discover ourselves in action.
We must also learn to be aware of our surroundings and our intimate connection to the divine presence, labeled muhadarah, awareness of the Divine Self, within Sufism. We call this self-remembrance in the gnostic tradition. We learn to gain comprehension of hudur, the presence of God, through muhadarah, awareness. Simultaneously, we must also direct our attention inside, studying our intimate defects through self-observation, inner accounting or muhasabah.
In order to know divinity we first have to look inside to see what is obstructing the light of divinity within our consciousness. By perceiving our faults and comprehending them, we in turn can liberate ourselves from those conditions. Self-observation is how we acquire new information about who we are and why we behave, so that we can work to remove negative elements in the psyche and thereby produce greater cognizance, peace, happiness, and compassion.
Our spiritual life is not exclusive to attending meetings. It is constituted of every interaction we engage with in daily, practical life. Spirituality is not limited to the church or the mosque, but in our homes, with our children, with our co-workers, and especially with people who give us difficulties. Do we respond with kindness towards someone who insults our hurt sense of dignity, our pride? How do we react towards the condemnation or criticism of others at work? Remember that our daily life is our spiritual path, and how we behave in every instance determines whether we will initiate a more spiritual way of being or strengthen a more demonic way of being.
The Moment is a Sword
We define our spiritual life depends on what we do from moment-to-moment. As Buddha taught in the Dhammapada:
Preceded by mind are phenomena, led by mind, formed by mind. If with mind polluted one speaks or acts, then pain follows, as a wheel follows the draft ox’s foot.
Preceded by mind are phenomena, led by mind, formed by mind. If with mind pure one speaks or acts, then ease follows, as an ever-present shadow.
What thoughts, feelings, or impulses emerge when we get up in the morning? When we go to work? When we speak with a friend, co-worker, or relative? Do our actions and words produce harmony and friendship, or do our actions create resistance, conflict, and struggle?
If we act virtuously, then we will inspire virtue in others; we will produce happiness for others. This is a fundamental law of nature: cause and effect, known in the East as karma.
Therefore, in accordance with the law of action and consequence:
One of the sayings of the Sufis is, “The moment is a sword.” That is, in just the way that a sword severs, the present moment shows forth the influence of God’s action, ending things and bringing them to be. It is said, “The touch of the flat of a sword is temperate, but its blade cuts”—the one who treats it gently is safe and the one who treats it rudely is destroyed. Thus with the “now”: Whoever submits himself to its authority is saved and whoever resists it deteriorates and declines. –Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
If you are negative towards another person, you will inspire negativity within that person. Therefore, the moment as a blade will cut you. But if you are temperate, peaceful, and kind towards your critics, your actions will produce comfort, ease, and balance.
When confronted with terrible circumstances, a virtuous, cultivated, and trained mind will serve as our greatest protector and aid. If we continue in unconscious, destructive, and resentful behavior, never learning to see another person’s point of view, we will in turn deepen our suffering and the suffering of others. We will fall upon our own sword.
It comes to my mind a story of a Tibetan Buddhist monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese after the expulsion of Tibetans and the desecration of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by the Chinese army. The 14th Dalai Lama asked him, “What is the greatest danger you faced?” This monk replied, “Losing my compassion for the Chinese.” This is a powerful statement!
Eventually this man was freed, and he continued as a monk, never losing sight of the goal: to generate superior states of being and not to give in to conditioned, negative psychological reactions, to dominate the present moment and submit himself only to what is being experienced here and now.
Whether or not we are in prison, we still suffer. If we react negatively, we will continue to suffer and exacerbate our problems. But if our mind is peaceful, we can easily and patiently withstand wrongs, maintaining serenity, and never losing touch with our inner divinity and the divinity of others. This is how the sword of perception, of vigilance, of insight, will defend us when we need it most.
Likewise, when confronted with difficult people, the greatest advantage we can have is always responding with consciousness, with remembrance of divinity:
“The best weapon that a human being can use in life is a correct psychological state.
“One can disarm beasts and unmask traitors by means of appropriate internal states.
“Wrong internal states convert us into defenseless victims of human perversity.
“You must learn to face the most unpleasant events of practical life with an appropriate internal uprightness...
“You must not become identified with any event. Remember that everything passes away. You must learn to look at life like a movie; thus, you shall receive the benefits...
“You must not forget that if you do not eliminate mistaken internal states from your psyche, then events of no value could bring you disgrace.
“Unquestionably, each external event needs its appropriate fare, that is, its precise psychological state.” —Samael Aun Weor, Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology: Personal Events
So question yourselves from the perspective of conscious attention. What specific types of events provoke or invoke your anger? Fear? Resentment? Why do you act and behave a certain way around certain people? Where are your thoughts coming from when your vanity is hurt, when you are offended? Why are you always offended by certain comments? Are you certain that responding with frustration will aid you at work, with your co-workers, your spouse?
Everything passes away. Nothing in life is static. Therefore, to hold on to a sense of self, such as anger, pride, hatred, desire, lust, as if it is permanent--to believe in and give our energy to these egotistical qualities that are transient and insubstantial, meaningless and unimportant--is absurd, harmful. Such psychological states deepen our suffering, precisely because there is a lack of communion between our internal states and the external event. External events are always changing, therefore, why hold on to them with so much attachment, with a desire for permanence? We always want something that doesn't coincide with the facts, and therefore we suffer tremendously inside.
Wherever we direct our attention, we expend creative energy. To give energy to our inner demons is to prolong our pain, to strengthen the cages we have built around ourselves.
To cease suffering, we must cease with desire. If we want to be happy, we must not give in to our desires, but learn to observe them with consciousness, to understand the roots of these thoughts, feelings, and impulses, so that they have less dominance over what we say and do. We must learn to adjust our internal states to meet the needs of each event. In this way we learn to use the sword of perception for our favor, to defend ourselves from negative thinking, feeling, and acting.
When you learn to follow the intuition of your innermost divinity, your Being, than you will learn how to competently negotiate and navigate the seas of your life, not only for your benefit, for the benefit of others.
Our egotism, pride, resentment, etc., is the enemy of God, the enemy of the Being. If we want divine aid, we have to go against ourselves, to go against the grain of our mechanical behaviors, habits, and ways of thinking. The Sufis teach that if we want realization of the divine, we must wage a holy war against the infidels, which are the conditioned elements of our psyche.
Divinity, of course, always aids the soul in this difficult struggle to awaken.
“Remembering God with the heart is called the sword of seekers. With it the seeker slays his enemies [egos, defects, nafs] and drives off [karmic] troubles that are headed for him. Even if difficulty should overshadow the servant, his fleeing to God Most High in his heart immediately turns away from him the thing he hates.” -Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Examine this image of St. Michael, who is often depicted slaying the devil, the dragon. מיכאל Michael in Hebrew comes from מיכ Mica, “Who is like” אֵל El, or “God?” This is a rhetorical question, telling us that no one is like God, the resplendence, light, or consciousness of divinity, the Being. Michael is an angelic being outside of us, but here represents the solar intelligence of our Being, as well as how the soul must wage bloody battles against the afflictions of the mind, the dragon, the monster, our diabolic qualities or egotistical desires. He does so with a sword, representing wisdom, remembrance, and insight. In some religious paintings, St. Michael is depicted carrying a scale, representing how the solar intelligence of our innermost Being is the one that brings balance, harmony, and justice to our psychological universe. This is how he conquers the creator of illusion and suffering.
The same meaning is represented in the next graphic of Manjushri. Here is a buddha, an awakened one, conquering the illusions and hypnotisms of desire through the sword of prajna, wisdom, insight, gnosis, or consciousness. By awakening our consciousness, and by destroying the shackles of our understanding, we can arrive at self-knowledge, represented by the book he also carries in his other hand.
The book represents knowledge, whereas the sword represents being, insight, consciousness. Therefore, knowledge and being must be harmoniously balanced within us in order to establish the flaming powers of comprehension in our psyche.
With superior knowledge, we can learn to redirect the course of our life, and with practical wisdom and insight, cut through to the sources of our greatest problems, thereby liberating our soul, awakening it definitely.
The Sufis state:
They have recited about this:
Like a sword, if you polish it, its touch is soothing
But its edge, if you are harsh to it, is harsh.
If the moment makes someone happy, it is a just moment to him.
If it makes him miserable, it becomes something hateful.
–Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Meditation is the path of polishing our perception, of purifying our insight. Your mind precedes all phenomena. We become what we think. Think wrong thoughts, and you will produce wrong results. But achieve serenity of mind, insight, patience, and understanding, by learning to pay attention, you learn to access the essential nature of your consciousness, which is peace, compassion, and love.
Behavior, Gnosis, and Meditation
In synthesis, we seek to change our behaviors and states of mind in a fundamental way. Awakening results from knowing how to transform the psyche into something positive and conscious, free of limitations. It means that we know how to act in every instance of life in an appropriate and defined way.
Abu Hafs Haddad of Nishapur says, “Sufism [or gnosticism] consists entirely of behavior; every time, place, and circumstance have their own property; he that observes the properties of each occasion attains to the rank of holy men; and he that neglects the properties is far removed from the thought of nearness (to God) and is excluded from imagining that he is acceptable to God.” –Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
What aids us in this endeavor are spiritual practices, the fulfillment of the divine law, so as to experience the truth, the way or the path. Samael Aun Weor wrote that meditation is the daily bread of the Gnostic. Meditation is the science of acquiring self-knowledge, of understanding the causes of conflict within us in order to remediate them. Meditation is how we overcome our personal and conditioned sense of self, the ego. As the Sufis teach:
In general, it is to the measure of one’s alienation from one’s own ego [conditioned or negative psychological elements] that one attains direct knowledge of one’s Lord… I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say, “One of the tokens of the gnosis of God is the achievement of deep awe and reverence for God. If someone’s realization increases, his awe increases.” And I heard him say, “Gnosis requires stillness of heart, just as learning requires outward quiet. If someone’s gnosis increases, his tranquility increases.” —Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah
It is in a state of tranquility where we can remove the conditionality of the mind in order to free and awaken the soul, the consciousness, from bondage. By increasing our knowledge of divinity through removing the causes of suffering, we in turn develop true peace of mind.
To aid us in this endeavor, we will be providing a series of exercises in order to aid you in accessing and realizing the principles we have covered in this lecture and in this course. We recommend you study and fulfill these practices each week in a diligent way, so that you procure definite and consistent results. Consistency is key, since without steadfastness in one’s spiritual discipline, one can attain nothing. However, as you continue to practice and see the benefits of such exercises, you will naturally be inspired to continue and deepen your work.
For this week, you can refer to the following exercise:
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