The following transcription is from an audio lecture on Sufi Principles of Meditation, a course originally delivered live at the Gnostic Academy of Chicago.
So the purpose of this course is to study and understand, as well as apply the principles of meditation. Meditation in its heart has been taught in the core of every religion, but in accordance with the skills or dispositions, the needs, the qualities of the students, and the particular culture in which this teaching has been given. So in Gnosticism we study a variety of faiths, a variety of teachings, which all point towards the development of the soul.
In the spirit of universality and study, we are going to be examining in this course how the Sufis taught the science of meditation. Sufism is a very beautiful teaching, but which unfortunately is not very well studied in the West; neither is it understood or practiced well, primarily because in Western society, Sufism has taken an academic role, where it has been exclusively limited to discussions and polemics of academies. But in its practical essence, Sufism teaches us how to understand our way of being, who we are fundamentally—to see and comprehend the path that leads out of suffering and towards the personal experience of the divine.
Some of you may be familiar with the poet Rumi. He’s actually the most popular poet in the west. He stated: “Remember that the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” So this statement is very profound and applies to the science of meditative knowledge: how we explore ourselves to perceive and understand what in us makes us suffer and what we can do to change.
Samael Aun Weor, the founder of the modern gnostic tradition, wrote in The Spiritual Power of Sound:
“It is completely impossible to experience the Being, the Innermost, the Reality (the divine) without becoming true technical and scientific masters of that mysterious science called meditation.” —Samael Aun Weor, The Spiritual Power of Sound: “The ‘I’ and the Being”
Meditation as denominated by the Sufis is mushahida. It means contemplation, to witness, to perceive. If you've heard or studied the public teachings of Islam, they have a very famous statement or declaration of faith called the Shahadah, which is the famous postulation: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His prophet.” In a profound way, to witness divinity, to witness the truth in ourselves, to experience what religion calls God, that all depends on meditation—because to bear witness of something, we have to see it. We have to perceive it. And that is what meditation is for. To see divinity. To know divinity. To not believe or leave that knowledge exclusively in the intellect or a sentiment in the heart. To really bear witness of the truth is to be a practical meditator. To practice contemplation, mushahida. That is how we enter the sanctuary inside of us, because all of us have divinity, the reality, the Being inside.
Samael Aun Weor, who founded our tradition, explained that Sufism teaches about the level of being, qualities of consciousness and also the way to perceive in ourselves, to understand the obstacles: that which conditions us and makes us suffer, by perceiving in us that which gives us pain. There is a way to change and to experience what divinity is, what religions have called divinity, no matter what the name from whatever culture.
So the purpose of meditation is to comprehend, to remove suffering and to elevate our consciousness to a better state than what we are presently in.
Meditation is not a technique. It's a way of being, a state of consciousness. Meditation is a profoundly lucid, pristine, cognizant state, that is free of conditioning.
So let us examine ourselves, if we aspire to learn meditation, to fully practice it. What in us is conditioned? What in us makes us suffer? What psychological states do we experience that are problematic for us, that make others suffer, that create conflicts at work and home, in the bedroom? What in us produces our pain?
To change all that, to no longer be afflicted, we practice the science of meditation. It is a state of consciousness: one in which we clearly perceive in us that which needs to change, which can be transformed. Because only from the state of equanimity, of dispassion, of calm, can we truly change our situation.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not daydreaming. It is not fantasizing or spacing out. Neither is it a dull state, a torpidity of mind, a cloudiness. Neither is it simply relaxing. Relaxation is essential, but it is not the state of meditation. It is what leads to it, what sets the foundation.
Meditation is the science of perception, of witnessing the truth for ourselves, to practice mushahida.
By comprehending ourselves, we learn to perceive clearly, because fundamentally all of us struggle with anger, with pride, with fear, with resentment, with envy, with lust. These are qualities of being which are very negative: fear that debilitates, that conditions, that traps the essence of who we really are.
Fortunately in religion and any meditative teaching there is a path that leads out of those conditioned states. But what it requires is a type of renunciation, a type of work, a type of practice. And this practice helps us to perceive the reality of our situation. Not what we believe or we fantasize, what we want to change simply with the intellect, by thinking or feeling, or daydreaming about a utopia, a better situation.
Meditation is the means by which we practically apply profound principles of understanding. As we say in this tradition: “Meditation is the daily bread of the Gnostic.” That bread is understanding, because when we understand something in us, when we comprehend defects like anger or pride or resentment, we can learn to remove them. Comprehension is the sustenance of the soul. Comprehension is essential. Understanding the conflicts of our mind and where they originate produces peace, equanimity, serenity.
And so the reason why we suffer is because we don't have equanimity. We don't perceive clearly in us what makes us suffer. Sadly humanity does not really understand or apply the methods for change. People suffer because they do not perceive reality as it is. We have desires that want the external world to change and yet we don't change fundamentally. Because of conditioned elements like fear and pride and anger and lust, we see life through the lens of these desires. Reality is one way, our desires want something else. And because our desires are never satisfied, never fulfilled, we go on through our existence, repeating mistakes, suffering, wanting the situation to change, yet not changing our own perspective.
It would be more radical and interesting if we were to transform our own mental states, because by changing who we are inside, we learn to change our situation.
So in a symbolic way, all of us are addicted to psychological states that produce suffering. But unfortunately we don't like to see this in ourselves. It's not a pleasant truth to understand: that we produce our own suffering and that we also make other people suffer too.
An alcoholic, someone who is addicted to intoxicating substances, may know intellectually that the desire or craving for alcohol is harmful, yet that person may continue to indulge in that desire, that state. They continue to suffer. So we may know on some level, whether we have experienced drug addiction or alcoholism, that engaging in that element is harmful. We may continue to do so anyways.
While this is a very extreme case, this is an example of our daily state. An addict knows that that addiction is wrong, but continues to feed that desire. And because desire never equates with reality, that person continues to suffer. The reality of engaging in that desire is to feel more and more pain, more suffering. And so all of us have addictions, perhaps not to substances, but to states of anger, of fear, of pride, because we want our situation to be a certain way, according to our egotism and desires. And yet because reality is what it is, we fight against it and suffer.
That is the state of the ego, egotism, the self, which we explore in our studies of meditation and seek to comprehend. Because by comprehending desire and the origins of our traumas, our sufferings, we reach the state of equanimity and change.
So on a basic level, we do not comprehend how our own desires make us suffer, because if we understood our desires and how they are never satisfied, we would not act on them or feed them. Because desire, which is always in conflict with reality, can never be filled, never be quenched. And when we don't get what we want, we suffer. That is a state of mind, of egotism.
The Reality of Suffering and Internal Transformation
This is why our world is what it is today, with all of its wars, its chaos, its afflictions. Humanity is in a state of crisis and people like to change the world with politics and theories and beliefs. People attempt to resolve the external situation without even considering how we psychologically are the cause of all the pain in this world. If the individual were to examine him or herself, his or her own mental states, which cause violence, extortion, prostitution, destruction—such a person would comprehend and would enact a superior way of being, a better way of acting, of relating to the world.
Samael Aun Weor wrote in his book Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology that:
“All things, all circumstances that occur outside of ourselves on the stage of this world are exclusively the reflection of what we carry within.”
It is a very difficult realization to make, but anybody who approaches spirituality sees in themselves, observes in themselves, how their states of egotism are the exact reflection of the chaos we see humanity in today. Society is the individual. It is a reflection of the individual mind. Trying to change the society in which we live can never produce results, if the individual does not change him or herself. It is a fundamental law of nature, a dynamic. The society is the individual. How we relate to others is a reflection of our own internal psychological states in which Sufism teaches us very beautifully how to comprehend, to analyze, to know.
“With good reason then we can solemnly declare that the ‘exterior is a reflection of the interior.’ When someone changes internally and if that change is radical, then circumstances, life and the external also change.” —Samael Aun Weor, Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology
So the science of meditation is what will lead us towards that change. As Samael Aun Weor wrote in The Great Rebellion:
“In life, the only thing of importance is a radical, total and definitive change. The rest frankly, is of no importance at all.”
So when we study Sufism or any tradition, meditation, we have to be very tired of suffering. We have to be very firm in our resolve, to work on our own mistakes and not to blame others. To change who we are. Because if we cannot change ourselves, it is impossible to change another person, to influence them, to help them. So therefore if we are really working effectively in ourselves, then our situation will change. It is a law of nature, like gravity, like attraction.
What we are psychologically attracts the circumstances of our life. If we are drunkards, we will be at the bar with other drunkards. If we are lawyers, we will be with other lawyers. If we are studying spirituality, we will meet others in a positive sense who are studying the same type of teaching, who also want to change. And so these type of influences help, or don't, depending on our state of mind.
We have to examine the facts. This is the radical zero-base by which we approach the science of meditation, because meditation is a state of consciousness. It is a state of understanding. It's about acquiring information, acquiring data. We have to see and look into ourselves, to witness that which causes our affliction—to see it, not to daydream, to theorize, to believe, to think we are a certain way, because of our cultural heritage or experience, but simply to look, to examine, to perceive.
Because as I provided the example of an alcoholic, they may know intellectually that their desire for alcohol is destructive, that it causes harm. They may intellectually know this and yet continue to engage in that desire itself. So what is missing in this example is observation of the facts: looking at what the situation is, what is the reality.
“Gnosis is lived upon facts, withers away in abstractions and it is difficult to find even in the noblest of thoughts.” —Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic
So this term gnosis is Greek. It means knowledge, but not of the intellectual type. It is conscious experiential perception of reality. There are many levels of this perception, just as within the Muslim or Sufi doctrine there are levels of witnessing the truth.
So you've all heard the famous public declaration of faith: "La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadun rasul Allah” (There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet). There are many people who recite this declaration and believe that they are now followers of God and that they are saved, simply because they think a certain way or feel a certain way.
But unfortunately, gnosis is lived upon facts, it withers away in abstractions. It is an abstraction to believe in a concept, that one is a follower of a tradition, or thinks that one is a saint, to believe that we are holy people because of our religion, of a institution, of a group. These are just concepts. They don't relate to the reality of our situation, about what we are psychologically. Believing in God does not change our anger in a moment of crisis. When we are criticized, we respond or react negatively and create problems, suffering for ourselves and others.
This declaration of faith on a public level does not really do anything, although people are welcome to practice and believe what they want. But in this teaching we like to be practical. What does it mean to witness divinity? To bear witness of something? It means that we've experienced it.
To witness something, or a person who is a witness in a court of law, sees an event with objectivity (hopefully). But in that situation, when we say we have seen something, it's because we've experienced it. It is what we know. It is not what we believe. To really bear witness that there is a divinity inside of us—and that there are many masters of humanity, of any tradition, that we have experienced—is another thing. It's another thing to really have that knowledge for ourselves from experience.
So what is this declaration of faith mean in a more profound level? To bear witness means that one is practicing mushahida, which is the Arabic term for meditation. Because in a state of meditation, when we have abandoned our conditions of mind, our negative internal states, we can in turn enter in to states of consciousness that are more elevated and that are beyond physicality. The body goes to sleep and the consciousness can experience truths that are beyond physical matter and energy. Some people call these dreams, lucid dreams, out of body experiences, astral projections, jinn experiences.
These are states of consciousness that are very real and the one who has experienced them knows those states primarily because of facts, because fulfilling the necessary principles of meditation, by working practically with them, and therefore such a person does not need to believe in anything—doesn't believe in a tradition, doesn't think something is true or think God is there, but knows it, because one has the experience. It is no longer an abstraction, and that unity of God, that the public teaching of Islam fundamentally ignores, is something inside. People like to believe in God as some anthropomorphic figure in the clouds, who dispenses lightning bolts to this poor anthill of a humanity. That figure does not exist. Instead it's better to think of, or conceptualize in the beginning, of divinity as a state of consciousness, which is inside of us, our true nature.
The Unity of God and the Soul
And so that unity that there is only one God is something psychological, internal, profound. That unity is a state of being which is very pure, has no suffering, has no pain, no anger, no lust, no desire. It is a definitive state of liberation. But if we look at ourselves and look at the facts of our experience, we find that we have many different desires. We have anger and pride and fear and laziness and gluttony. In one moment we may desire to have coffee cake—in the next watch television, go on YouTube, get into an argument. We are constantly conflicted, moving in multiple directions all at once. We have many desires which are not unitary, they are actually disparate, conflicting, contradictory.
We are a walking paradox, because physically we have this body which is unitary or works as a unit, but psychologically we are not a unit. We are very conflicted and this is why people suffer so much, why we are in the situation we are in. Because we don't look at the reality of our mind.
So meditation is about gathering data about that multiplicity of desires and discursive factors in us, which we seek to comprehend and to eliminate, to change. Meditation is how we see clearly in us what needs to change. Therefore “Gnosis is lived upon facts, it withers away in abstractions,” ideas, beliefs, “and it is difficult to find even in the noblest of thoughts.” So religion as it is taught today has very noble aspirations, but we have to look at the practical aspects of these doctrines, of these methods, to see what works and what doesn't. Because if humanity continues to suffer and we continue to suffer, it means that we are not changing fundamentally. This is the radical foundation by which we address ourselves when we study this type of teaching.
There is a Sufi initiate, a Sufi teacher by the name of Al-Junayd. He was quoted in a book called Al-Risalah, which simply means Principles of Sufism. He elaborates and even confirms what Samael Aun Weor states in this quote from The Revolution of the Dialectic:
“Al-Junayd states: To affirm the unity means to distinguish the eternal from ephemeral.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So what does it mean to affirm God? To know divinity, to have that divinity manifest in our very thoughts, our very words, our very deeds, our very ways of acting, our life. To have happiness that is eternal, that is unconditioned, that is pure. It means to distinguish that which is eternal from that which is ephemeral. Meaning, get through the illusions.
Look at the illusions that we continue to engage in about ourselves. It means to look at that which is not concrete, which is not real. Because all these desires, according to any meditative tradition, are not our true identity. Our true identity is happiness, a state of contentment, a state of peace. And so everything else is arbitrary. It is not eternal, and therefore we have to learn how to go inside of ourselves, to calm the mind and to learn to remove the conditions that have trapped us, that we put into place.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, the greatest poet of the Sufi tradition stated:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Therefore we have to rely on facts, observe ourselves, gather data about what we are doing at any given moment. To practice awareness of ourselves. Because as Al-Jurayri, again from this book Principles of Sufism, teaches:
“If someone does not seek to acquire the knowledge of the Unity (of divinity, from experience) through some kind of evidence, the foot of his delusion will slip into an abyss of destruction.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Of course this is a very serious case, but any person who approaches meditation does so because they no longer want to suffer in life, and want to change themselves. We have to rely on evidence; look at what we are. Do not assume we are a certain way, or think intellectually we are or possess certain qualities, but simply to look, to observe, to not daydream. But also not to seek for love, but to look at ourselves, to see what has trapped it. Because by removing these imperfections in ourselves, we can truly experience what love is.
The Three Levels of Meditative Instruction
Meditation was taught in the schools of Sufism very similar to many other traditions. There is an introductory teaching, there is an intermediate teaching, and there is an advanced teaching.
The following words are Arabic: There is Shari’ah (introductory level), there is Tarīqah, (the intermediate level) and there is Haqiqah / Ma’rifah (the advanced level). These are respectively an exoteric or public teaching, a mesoteric or intermediate teaching, and a hidden, secret mystical teaching, an esoteric teaching.
If you study Buddhism you're very familiar with the three schools: Śrāvakayāna, Mahayana, Tantrayana.
We are going to explain a little bit about these terms because they hold a lot of value for studying what meditation is and how to practically and effectively apply it.
People hear the term Shari’ah and in the West this term has a lot of baggage. People associate Shari’ah with Shari’ah law, as the punitive laws of Muslim countries, in which people have been stoned or executed, have been harmed. And sadly people have used that aspect of, or misinterpreted the original intent of this term. Shari’ah simply means law, but it is not a cultural law. It is not morals. It is not dogma.
The Sufis have a very interesting interpretation of what Shari’ah means. It simply means conduct, how one acts. Shari’ah as a public teaching, in the true sense, refers to how we produce actions which bring about the harmony and happiness of others, but also ourselves. This is known as ethics, codes of conduct, ways of being. It has nothing to do with the violence that is truly afflicting the Middle East. Whether people would like to interpret certain scriptures for their own benefit, to promote degeneration and destruction is one thing, but the Sufis have always explored the Qur’an and other mystical writings from a symbolic point of view.
Shari’ah refers to in its true sense, ways of being, superior ways of acting, such as compassion, kindness, understanding, love. It also means to refrain from those negative states of mind which produced suffering: anger, fear, pride, etc. This is the most introductory level of any meditative tradition. Ethics. Producing causes of happiness in oneself. Actions that produce harmony, peace and refraining from behaviors, even mentally and emotionally, which cause conflict.
The intermediate state which is built off of this foundation has to do with the heart. Tarīqah means “path,” and the Sufis explain that this is the path one follows in the desert of life. All of us are in particular situations in life, our experiences. We all have our own sufferings and hardships. We are symbolically wandering in the desert. Tarīqah has to do with those special practices that are for the benefit of others. The introductory level of religion, ethics, has more to do with training our own negative mental states and producing positive states. But the path of spirituality, Tarīqah, is working more for the benefit of others.
So this is a very profound shift in one's focus, in which our meditation is not just about us. We learn to change who we are so that we don't affect others negatively.
I believe there is a statement by a famous Sufi master. His name is Ibn Arabi. He said that he would always go on retreats, khalwa in Arabic, in order to not abandon the world, to avoid negative people, but he would go off into the desert or wherever in order to reflect on himself and work on himself, so that he did not affect others. He said most people enter retreat because they want to avoid bad people, the cities, whatever. But what Tarīqah, the mesoteric level of meditation, the heart of any religion, is more about working for the benefit of others.
We meditate not just for our own benefit, to know divinity for ourselves, but in order to express positive states of being with others. To produce the happiness of others.
This is the path that leads us towards the highest stages of realization. When we work for others, when we develop compassion, when we eliminate states like anger, we are in turn preparing ourselves for even higher degrees of understanding, which is Haqiqah, Ma’rifah.
Haqiqah is truth from the Arabic Al-Haqq, which is one of the names of divinity given in Islam. Ma’rifah means knowledge. Again this is the Arabic equivalent of the word in Greek, gnosis. This is the esoteric teaching. It is the hidden teaching. It has to do with certain practices which are very expedient, in which people who have fully established themselves in meditation and are working for the benefit of others can receive methods and practices in order to truly advance. To have more power and energy and work by which to impact others positively.
This is the equivalent of Tantrayana, the teachings of tantrism or the perfect matrimony explained by Samael Aun Weor. It is the teachings of alchemy according to medieval science, the science of a marriage, how a couple can work together in their matrimony, in their union, in order to transform everything they are for humanity.
Ibn Arabi, who is called the greatest of Sufi teachers, stated that in the introductory level of Shari’ah, “What is yours is yours and what is mine is mine.” There is separatism. Individuals work primarily on their own minds, so that they no longer suffer. In the intermediate path, Tarīqah, “What is yours is mine and what is mine is yours,” he says. People share and commune and work together. People work on their minds, their hearts, in order to help humanity as a whole. And then in the advanced state, Haqiqah, Ibn Arabi states: “Nothing belongs to you or me.” Because at that state of meditation, one is working very seriously and is impacting humanity out of the state of selflessness. For Ma’rifah, he says: “There is no you or me.” There is only God.
This is the highest teaching of religion, because the word religion from the Latin religare means “to reunite.” This is when the soul or consciousness in meditation and through this type of work has united as a consciousness with the Truth, Al-Haqq. No matter what name is given to that Truth, no matter what religion, that divinity. This is a very profound state and at that level in which one can truly say “There is no god but God and Jesus is His prophet, and Buddha is His prophet, and Krishna, Moses, Muhammad, whomever, are His prophets.” That is the highest experience of the truth which we can taste in the beginning if we're working seriously. But these levels are developed gradually, progressively, as we are practicing the requisites.
The Divine Law, the Way, and the Inner Reality
There are some very beautiful teachings about meditation and these dynamics explained by a Sufi writer by the name of Al-Qushayri. He wrote in the book called Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism explanations which are very profound about understanding what this past level instruction entails. He states:
“The divine Law [Shari’ah] commands one to the duty of servanthood.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So again, what is this divine law? Some of you may be familiar with Buddhism, with karma, cause and effect, action and consequence. The divine law is acting for the benefit of others. Curtailing negative emotions so that one no longer suffers oneself.
“The divine Law commands one to the duty of servanthood [to serve divinity].” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
This is not a belief. It's a factual practice in which when we are confronted, such as at work, we may be criticized; we feel anger rising in ourselves, hurt self esteem, pride. We learn to serve divinity by not acting on those elements. By first restraining ourselves consciously, looking at ourselves and not acting from a state of negativity. That is how we serve God in us. We don't enact our desires. We learn to act with the soul, with consciousness.
“The Way [Tarīqah], the inner Reality [Haqiqah] is the contemplation of divine lordship.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So what is this inner reality as we were saying? It is gnosis. It is experience. When in meditation, we experience what divinity is. It also means that we comprehend ourselves, all of that which clouds the mind, which prevents us from reflecting that divine truth in ourselves.
“Outward religious practice not confirmed by inner reality is not acceptable. Inner reality not anchored by outward religious practice is not acceptable.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
What is outward religious practice? It has to do with any type of exercise in our tradition or any tradition which is not confirmed, not understood, which is not experienced. It has to be validated by inner reality. Meaning, if we're practicing meditation or any type of exercise, such as pranayama, runes, sacred rites of rejuvenation, mantras, any type of practice, which we are using to develop our spirituality, has to be verified by inner reality. We have to genuinely perceive how these practices work. How they are effective. Because simply going through the motions of praying mechanically does not produce any results. Therefore this type of practice is not acceptable. We have to really vividly, consciously understand the purpose of any exercise, so that we can become prepared for meditation.
“Inner reality not anchored by outward religious practice is also not acceptable.” Meaning, having any type of experience, weather in dreams, or in meditation, which have nothing to do with our practice is also not acceptable.
There are many people who by engaging in this type of exercises start to see things in themselves. They have dreams or visions. But unfortunately because the mind is so conditioned, we are so afflicted with ego, that all we are seeing in many cases is a reflection of our own subjectivity, our own conditions. So if someone is filled with anger, they see through anger. They have dreams and visions and experiences filtered through that element.
Unfortunately we have a lot of egotism and we project a lot of our mind into our dreams when the physical body is asleep. So having those type of inner experiences, not grounded in any type of ethics, is unacceptable. If we have visions or perceptions, which are not grounded in our spiritual practices, is also not acceptable. We have to learn to differentiate that which is objective from that which is false, and this is the fundamental quality of meditation. It's discernment. To discern what is ephemeral from what is eternal.
“Divine Law brings obligation upon the creation, while the Way is founded upon the free action [or experience] of the real.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So this path of ethics, divine law, is an obligation upon us. Divinity does not want us to suffer. Divinity wants us to enact positive actions which produce happiness. It is an obligation. It is a trust and a tryst. It is an agreement that anyone takes, when they are seriously working and looking in themselves to change. And so this way is founded, meditation is founded upon the free action or experience of the truth. We have to perceive and experience these things for ourselves, what religion, scriptures and practices actually entail, and their results.
“The divine Law is that you serve Him, the Way is that you see Him.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
How do we serve divinity? When we are with our loved ones, our parents or family members are really provoking our anger, our self-esteem, our pride—we want to be sarcastic, negative, harmful, hurtful with our speech—we serve divinity when we refrain from those behaviors. That is how we serve divinity. Because religion is about bringing communities together, creating harmony.
“The Way is that we see Him.” In the beginning we don't see divinity. We all want experiences, to have some type of ecstasy of the soul in which we talk face-to-face with our own inner Being, our inner God. Unfortunately, because we are conditioned, we don't see that in the beginning typically, unless we are really working seriously. We serve divinity by fulfilling ethics and we learn to see divinity when we fulfill those basic requirements. Because when we act on egotism, we feed desire and continue to cloud and condition our mind.
As Prophet Muhammad taught in the oral tradition of Islam, there is an organ in the body which, when it is pure, can reflect the truth. It is like a mirror. If it is cloudy, it cannot reflect anything—it is dirty. But when it is polished, it can reflect the truth. That organ is the heart, and the polish for the heart is remembrance—to remember divinity in those moments in which we are really tested. We are provoked to the edge, and yet we refrain from acting on those negative qualities of mind and that we, in turn, enact positive, superior action. That is how we polish our heart, refine our conduct, so that we can see divinity, to know divinity and therefore it is no longer a theory. It is what we experience.
“The divine Law is doing what you have been ordered to do. Haqiqah is bearing witness to what it is determined and ordained, hidden and revealed.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So again Haqiqah, Truth, to know reality, the Being.
“I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say that God's saying [in the Opening Surah, Al-Fatihah of the 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.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So those of you who are not familiar with the Qur’an, one of the most commonly recited prayers in the Muslim tradition states from the very opening of this book:
In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship, and to You we turn for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.
―Al-Fatihah: The Opening
“You alone we worship.” That is Shari’ah, the divine law. But why? What does it mean to worship divinity in accordance with meditative science?
It doesn't mean to believe or feel in the heart that one is a saint or a good person. To worship divinity is to have that respect and even that anxiety in moments of great trial in which we are truly tested.
We worship divinity by our actions, not through any type of mechanical, canonical prayer, by reciting words, which can have meaning or not. We demonstrate our worship in divinity by our level of acting, our level of being, how we behave in moments of great trial. We worship divinity when we don't feed anger, pride, lust, because we know that those qualities of mind will produce suffering for ourselves and others. We worship divinity because we want to make divinity manifest in us.
So this is the outward practice: “You we worship.” And then the inner reality is established by: “To you we turn for help.” So how is it also that we can worship divinity? It is very simple. We practice concentration, we relax the body, we focus in ourselves and silence our mind. Remove the obscurations of the psyche. Don't think so much. Ask a question of your inner divinity for help, for insight. When we concentrate our mind, we are performing a type of worship, because the distracted mind, a discursive mind, a fractured mind, cannot reflect anything true. It is simply conditioned by its own negativity.
“You we worship” is a type of concentration in which we abandon the mind, we abandon thinking, we abandon emotion, we relax the body, relax everything that we think we are and achieve a type of stillness. When we attain quietude in the mind, when we are no longer thinking so much, when thoughts are no longer there, when the heart is at peace, we can then receive the inner reality, the way. That is when we turn for help. Because remember that the mind and the heart are like a mirror, or even like a lake. If the lake is turbid, filled with waves and conflict, if it is churning with emotion, it cannot reflect any images on it's surface. But when it's still, it can reflect the heavens, the stars, nature.
And this is an allegory of our own meditative practice. “You we worship.” We concentrate. We relax the mind. We silence the mind. And then, when we're no longer thinking, insight, spontaneous, intuitive, emerges. We receive understanding. We can even receive experiences where we witness different states of consciousness, which are not physical. Imagery, which is not physical. Experiences that are beyond our physical reality. This is the inner way. This is how we turn for help. This is when we receive understanding, comprehension and with comprehension there is serenity, there is understanding and peace. When we understand the cause of a certain fault in us or a certain problem, we are no longer afflicted, and then we obtain religion.
“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
Another very famous Sufi from the Persian tradition, wrote corroborating the thoughts of Al-Qushayri. His name is Abdullah Ansari of Herat, from the book Stations of the Sufi Path:
“Now, the divine law (Shari’ah) is entirely the divine truth (Haqiqah), and the divine truth is entirely expressed in the divine law, and the foundation of actual realization of the divine truth is the divine law and the claim to follow the law.” ―Abdullah Ansari of Herat, Stations of the Sufi Path
So don't think of a law or this law as something physical, political, social. This law has to do with consciousness. Certain behaviors produce sorrow and pain. Certain states of consciousness produce happiness. By learning to work on ourselves, we can learn to experience this truth.
“The divine law and following that law without realizing the divine truth is useless, just as claiming to realize the divine truth without practicing and understanding the divine law is useless. So all those who act without integrating and realizing both of these together are acting in vain.” ―Abdullah Ansari of Herat, Stations of the Sufi Path
Simply believing in a tradition is useless. To say, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet,” or to believe in Jesus, in the Buddha and whomever and following a type of moral system, does not change anyone. Morality is, again, different from ethics. Morality are beliefs about how one should act. But that does not mean that one acts consciously. Ethics is what we do practically ourselves, so that we can experience the truth.
The Three Blessings of the Sufis
We will conclude with a beautiful teaching again from the book Principles of Sufism. They talk a lot about three blessings, which synthesize and summarize the foundations of meditation according to the Sufi teachings. It's a very beautiful book that elaborates many anecdotes and stories of which we will relate a few.
There are three blessings: faith, submission and beautiful action, Iman, Islam, and Ihsan. So faith has nothing to do with belief. When you witness something for yourself, you have faith. You have experienced it. You know it. Even as basic as putting one's hand on a hot stove and getting burned. One has faith and knowledge and understanding, that to place one's hand on that kitchen stove is to get burned. That is a very basic level of understanding. But in a more profound sense, we have faith when we verify through meditation what divinity is. What consciousness is. And that certain actions are either the bane or the boon of the soul.
Islam simply means “submission” in Arabic, “to submit.” People like to think that in the public sense, Islam has to do with following a certain tradition or series of prayers, which is beautiful. But in a more profound sense we submit to divinity when we work on our mind. We no longer act on egotism and that is how we act beautifully, Ihsan.
If you’ve heard the Arabic name Hassan, it originates from this Arabic root Ihsan. It means beautiful action. To act with such clarity and intuition in great trials and crises. To do what is right in a moment of great difficulty. That is Ihsan. Actions like that of Jesus, when he was crucified. The love and selflessness he showed to his enemies is perhaps the greatest act of selfless love, a beautiful action, our humanity has ever witnessed.
All of us have that potential to act beautifully and these three blessings are emphasized in the following anecdote:
“[The Angel] Gabriel appeared to the Prophet in the form of a man, ‘O Muhammad,’ he said. ‘What is faith (iman)?’ The Prophet replied, ‘To believe in a God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and destiny—it’s good and bad, its sweet and bitter, come from God.’ ‘You have spoken the truth,’ said the visitor.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So he uses the term belief and in the original Arabic there are meanings which are much more profound. People commonly associate belief with thinking something is true or feeling something is true, but not knowing. Belief comes from be-lieve: to be through the power of love, which is not just an intellectual thing, but is an act of consciousness in which our very ways of acting, thinking, feeling, moving, behaving is done from love and remembrance of divinity. To be present, to be conscious.
“‘You have spoken the truth,’ said the visitor. We were surprised that someone would corroborate the Prophet, both questioning him and confirming what he said. ‘And inform me: What is Islam (submission to God’s will)?’ he continued. ‘Islam is to establish prayer, give the poor their dues, fast during the month of Ramadan and make the pilgrimage to the House of God.’” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
This is the public level of Islam, certain prayers that people adopt and fulfill in a type of kindergarten for the science of meditation. Prophet Muhammad was even known to have said: “An hour of contemplation is better than a year of prayer.” But in the beginning it is good to pray. To pray to whatever divinity or form of divinity we have an affinity for. Islam is to submit to divinity through our heart, through our actions, where our very ways of being is a form of prayer. We can pray five times a day towards Mecca or any type of tradition that studies meditation. We can adopt many prayers, which are very beautiful and useful. They are all very powerful. But what's essential is that when we pray, we don't think. We don't rationalize. We open up our heart. We reflect in ourselves how we need help.
And to meditate, because an hour of contemplation, is the greatest prayer. To observe ourselves and to learn about what makes us suffer is the greatest form of prayer. It is also in this way that we give the poor their dues, we help others. All of us are poor or poor in spirit, and humanity also is very poor, and needs help.
“To fast during the month of ramadan and to make the pilgrimage to the House of God.” So fasting has many levels. Many Muslims will physically fast during this period of time. On a more profound level, which we will elaborate in the future lectures, fasting has to also do with how we no longer feed our ego. It is a type of fast. We don't give our desires what they want. It is a type of discipline. “And make pilgrimage to the House of God.” This is the famous Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a very beautiful symbolic teaching about the inner work which we will elaborate in future lectures.
“‘You have spoken the truth,’ he said again. ‘So tell me about doing what is beautiful (ihsan)?’ ‘Doing what is beautiful is to worship God as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, certainly He sees you.’ ‘You have spoken the truth,’ he said.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
In the beginning we don't see divinity. We don't know what the Being is. But even though we are clouded of mind, the heart is not polished firmly, clearly yet. Divinity sees all of our actions, our inner being. So acting beautifully is knowing that on some level there are consequences to what we do. This is ethics. And in this way, by developing ethical behavior, we calm the mind. We develop peace of heart. We establish ourselves for deeper states of serenity.
This is how we learn to bear witness, to give testimony of the truth, to experience, to know the unity of the divine. The unitary state of consciousness, which in Arabic is called tawhid.
“I heard Abu Hatim al-Sijistani say... that al-Jalajili al-Basri said, ‘For the testimony of unity (tawhid) to be in force, faith is prerequisite…” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Meaning, if we have no experience, no faith, we can not really affirm the validity of any teaching. So we have to really test and validate and experiment with these principles to see what is true.
“‘…for whoever has no faith cannot testify to the unity. For faith to be in force the divine law is prerequisite, for whoever does not hold to the divine law has no faith and cannot testify to the unity.’” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
We develop faith by experience, by enacting the causes that produce the state of meditation, of contemplation.
“‘For the divine law to be in force refined conduct is prerequisite, for whoever has not refined his conduct cannot hold to the divine law, has no faith, and cannot testify to the unity...’” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So in synthesis, we prepare the practical foundations of meditation by developing our conduct. If we give in to desire, we can no longer perceive reality, but if we work on our own negative mental states, our own negative qualities of mind, we can in turn open up our psyche and our heart to know the truth.
Questions and Answers
Audience: Hi, I have a question regarding the word meditation. Would you be able to expound or break down the actual word or maybe the root word, and where the word comes from and what are the parts of the word? Because one of the things that I've been exploring are things like meditation involving a certain posture or the idea of meditation involving certain thoughts or certain practices, when often a state of meditation might be achieved looking at a tree or going for a walk. But then the question is, am meditating or am I moving nearer to meditation? My idea of meditation may not be at all that.
Instructor: Excellent question. In Arabic the word for meditation is mushahida, which relates to the term Shahadah, meaning declaration of faith, to bear witness of something. So meditation in it's proper sense is when we witness with clarity, with no condition of mind present, what the reality of a given situation is, or our own internal states. What is actually going on. Because meditation is, according to Samael Aun Weor in his writings, the state of acquiring information. And there are many levels and qualities of that type of introspection, of that witnessing.
Witnessing can be simply seeing in ourselves defect of anger—in a moment when which we are criticized, we are observing ourselves, being aware of ourselves, our surroundings and we see our quality of mind for what it is. Witnessing can also have to do with being aware of our surroundings as well. Being very vivid, very clear. So meditation is about being awake, acquiring data of our experiences. It's a quality that is very dynamic and there are many levels.
Some people have studied astral projection or dream yoga in which one is awake in the dream state. One is no longer in the physical body, but one is experiencing life in the internal worlds. That is a form of witnessing as well. A state of meditation. But the problem is that once we experience that state, even if it just for a moment, our own conditions of mind, our own egotism, pulls us out.
The way we learn to sustain those states is by again practicing meditation, going into ourselves, silencing our mind, relaxing, suspending our senses, looking inside of ourselves. Consciousness is very beautifully explained in many of the Sufi writings, which we are going to explore in this course, which can give you an idea of what those qualities and states are like. But the best teacher is always going to be your own practice. Examining your own mind and what qualities are objective and clear and what are not. Unfortunately, no one can really teach you that. That's something you have to really work within yourself. We can give you indicators and examples, but actually experiencing what that state is like is something very practical and personal.
Audience: Thank you for the presentation tonight. It was very helpful. You mentioned the fine example of a polished heart. It really made and impact on us here. The other thing is, in doing the practices, you also mentioned not to be mechanical. Wouldn’t the use of imagination, after preparing yourself, in the practices be essential and being able to perform them in a way that you can connect to divinity? This would also be carried on over to concentration and focusing and in our meditations.
Instructor: Absolutely. The term imagination is commonly called clairvoyance. For those who are not familiar with the teachings of conscious perception, imagination, it is the ability to perceive imagery that is not physical. And so whenever we do any practice, whether we are doing mantras or prayers and concentrating our minds, we open up our imagination to visualize and to perceive in our mind's eye the result of the goal we seek.
So imagination or perception, which is given the name clairvoyance, meaning “clear vision,” has to do with qualities of perceiving. When we do runes or any exercise of practice, any mantras, we learn to visualize in our mind energy flowing. Or we can visualize any figure within any tradition that truly inspires us, such as an image of the Virgin Mary or any of the Greek Gods. Imagination is essential to our practices. Meaning, to concentrate the mind is important in the beginning. We learn to concentrate ourselves by working in ethics, and once the waters of the mind and the heart are polished and refined and calm, that's when we can start to see things more clearly in us.
That is what the Sufis call witnessing. We learn to witness the truth when we are serene. We're not thinking. And in that exercise of runes or any type of practice that we do in this teaching, we first calm our mind and we visualize, we pray, we try to see in our consciousness any type of energy we are working with, or working with the Divine Mother in the sacred rites of rejuvenation. For those who are familiar, these are yoga postures that we perform along with prayer and visualization exercises. So we perform certain visualizations in which we ask for help from divinity in order to bring down healing energies in our body and our mind.
We have to see with our eyes closed what we are doing. If we're invoking or calling upon these forces, we have to learn to see them, to imagine them, to perceive them. And there are many levels through perception. So it's important that when we are meditating or silencing our mind or doing any type of prayer, we also imagine divinity in our consciousness and ask for help.
So of course imagination is very important. We will be talking more about that faculty as we advance in this course. We will hold a lecture about that topic specifically, but of course we want to see the prayer, relaxation, concentration, imagination. These are the factors that open up the doorway to experience. With the analogy we're providing, when the mind is calm or concentrated and relaxed in the state of prayer, we can start to perceive superior images, which don't come physically, but are internal and are something very dynamic.
Audience: I have a question regarding to the lecture. Throughout the lecture I kept thinking of a part of the Bible. I forgot the part of the Bible where it says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I don't know why that thought kept presenting itself throughout the lecture. Is there something related to that? Because my understanding to that is, having the fear of the Lord is being able to understand good and evil. So is there a way that you can expand a little bit about that?
Instructor: So going back to the teaching of Shari’ah and ethics, we learn to be afraid of acting wrongly in order to obtain wisdom. Somebody who's not afraid of behaving poorly in any type of circumstance—not in the egotistical sense, but from the state of reverence of divinity—that person will not have any real development.
So that statement, "The beginning of the knowledge is fear of the Lord.” That fear in original Hebrew is pechad. It can also mean reverence or awe. The Sufis talk a lot about the awe of divinity and that we have to have awe and reverence for our inner being, especially when we are tested. Situations arise in which we are conflicted and we really have to feel that reference and awe of divinity, knowing that even though we don't see divinity, divinity sees us. And if we act on our mind, we will cause problems. So that is one level of that meaning.
The beginning of real Ma’rifah, witnessing of divinity, is that precise respect we have for our Being when we feel anger is about to emerge and it's about to take over, but we refrain from acting on that element. That's the beginning, but we go deeper in meditation and look to comprehend in even deeper roots what that emotion was about, and we look at the facts of that. But again, relating back to Shari’ah, ethical conduct is the beginning of knowledge. Without ethics, we can't really have experience or knowledge of divinity.
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