This is a transcription of an audio lecture from The Sufi Path of Self-knowledge, originally given live at the Gnostic Academy of Chicago:
We are continuing our course on self-knowledge, which we initiated a few weeks ago. We've been discussing in synthesis the nature of spiritual awakening, comprehension, and cognizance of the divine, which is within us, as well as some means and methods for how we can acquire that cognizance, that awakening for ourselves. We were talking about the nature of consciousness, what does it mean to be awakened, what does it mean to be perceptive, and we've explained in synthesis how perception is the root of thought, it is the root of emotion, and it is the root of impulse, instinct, will, desire, etc., and is the very source from which perception springs.
In the spirit of the Gnostic doctrine, which encompasses all religions, we've been explaining this teaching of self-awareness, self-knowledge, how to experience the divine in accordance with the mysticism of the Middle East—to demonstrate that this teaching is more than from the Christian standpoint. We think of gnosis, in terms of scholasticism today as being the study of the Christian gospels that were not canonized. But the Greek word gnosis is knowledge, knowledge that we acquire from experience, and has nothing to do with intellectualism, scholasticism, theorizing, debating. Instead, it's a concrete and factual knowledge of divinity.
We were explaining this teaching in relation to the mysticism of Islam, and Islam in Arabic means submission to God's will. Whether we are Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, etc., we learn to submit to the will of divinity within us by developing that awareness, developing that understanding. Gnosis has been known in different terms in different religions, but amongst the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, they denominate this knowledge Marifah, knowledge, or Haqiqah, which means the truth.
In this lecture, we're going to explain what we need to do in order to develop that awareness further, that knowledge further. It is a spiritual discipline. It is a method. It is based on cause and effect. Spiritual life is based upon the implementation of specific factors, which is why different religions have given different codified rules of conduct, in order to know divinity, whether it's the ten commandments of Judaism, whether it's the ten meritorious or non-meritorious actions of Buddhism, or whether it is the written commandments given in the Qur’an amongst the Muslims and the Sufis, and each tradition has its own specific instructions and conduct of how to discipline the mind.
So in Buddhism, we speak about the need to discipline the mind in order to experience the serenity of no thought, to cease thinking, conceptualizing, preoccupation with the intellect which produces our problems and our sufferings. So the self-knowledge we seek is to train ourselves, to train our minds, train our bodies, our hearts, to know divinity and to understand what within our psyche obscures that divine intelligence, which religions have given different names, whether it is the inner Buddha, (which as we explained, Buddha means awakened one, to be cognizant, to be pristine, to be clear in thought, sentiment in being) or as amongst the Muslims, Allah, which has the Hebrew equivalent El. This is where you get many names of angels, Samael, Michael, Gabriel, etc.
It is that Self we seek to understand. But of course to get there, we need to learn how to implement the appropriate causes to reap the specific effects we seek. As the founder of the modern Gnostic tradition stated (his name is Samael Aun Weor), "Consciousness can only be awakened by upright efforts and conscious works, or conscious works and upright efforts."
We are going explain today specifically the parameters and the difficulties one faces when developing an introspection into the psyche. What are the obstacles we face, and what are some teachings that we can use to train an undisciplined mind to make it a disciplined and peaceful mind? Precisely because our mind, as it currently is, identifies with our daily problems, perhaps having arguments with loved ones, coworkers, conflicts. Any state of suffering indicates and points to causes within our psyche which need to be comprehended. It is by comprehending the source of the conflicts we experience within ourselves, within our interior, that we can obtain the peace of mind and the serenity of a divine and clear mind, one that fully reflects to its fullest potential the heavenly states of being, as we were discussing.
We will reiterate a point we made in our last lecture. We were discussing the nature of consciousness and what it means to be awake, and what it means to be unconscious. Currently as we are, in our preoccupations with our daily struggle, the engagement with work, the many obligations and responsibilities we are subjected to, we state clearly that these in themselves form distractions. How we approach life, how we engage with life is determined by our quality of mind, our state of being. It is impossible to escape from the necessaries of life, but we can change our psychological attitude, how we approach it.
As we were saying, our physical senses may be awake: sight, taste, touch, hearing, feeling, etc. These in themselves indicate a state of physical wakefulness. But in terms of the spiritual potential we have, we state that this potential is asleep. It is not active. It is not fully developed to its potential, which is demonstrated by the Sufi proverb, "He who knows himself knows his Lord." If we were to know ourselves completely, we would know divinity completely, according to the ancient traditions. So, we often speak of the need for awareness, of remembrance of divinity, becoming cognizant of that presence within us.
Specifically, we have the following quote from the scripture we've been quoting extensively in this course, the Risalah, or Principles of Sufism, (or you could say Gnosticism as well, they share the same roots) and this following quote is from a Sufi master by the name of Al-Wasiti. He was asked about the practice of remembrance and said, "It is leaving the enclosed court of unconsciousness for the vast space of contemplation through the power of fearing him and the intensity of loving him."
So again, divinity is not some old man in the clouds, some anthropomorphic figure who distributes lightning bolts upon this anthill of humanity to make us suffer. That god does not exist, which is why Friedrich Nietzsche said, "God is dead," or that Judeo-Christian god is dead, doesn't exist. Instead, the God we're speaking of is a presence, is a force, an intelligence which is within us. As we explained in the story of the allegory of the cave, there is a process by which one escapes from that shackling and conditioning of the mind, of the psyche, of the consciousness in order to experience higher states of unconditionality, of liberation, of freedom from negative psychological states, such as pride, fear, anger, vanity, lust, etc. The seven deadly sins, we could say, according to some traditions.
We are explaining that what we seek to develop is consciousness free from conditions. In a moment of anger, we are conditioned by anger. We see through the object of that desire. We want to fulfill what that desire craves from us. And this, you could say, magnetic pull of forces in ourselves to act in a certain way, in a negative way, demonstrates to us that we don't have full control, that we don't have full knowledge of ourselves, that we are trapped in a given moment by exterior causes and conditions to constantly react to the exterior world in a way that is harmful, that is detrimental for ourselves and for others. When someone criticizes us, perhaps a sentiment of pride emerges, that we feel that we are better than the other person, followed by anger, with the thought, "That person should not have insulted me," followed by another train of thought, "Well, I'll just forget about it. Perhaps that won't affect my job so much."
We constantly go through a chain of associative thinking, of thoughts, feelings, and emotions which pull at us in response to the external world, which in itself demonstrates that we are mechanical, meaning that we are like a machine in which anyone can press any button they wish, say anything they wish, and we will respond according to that wish, according to that impetus. This is why Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet when he was confronted and trying to fool the people of his household who were spying on him, he said, "'Sblood, do you think I'm easier to be played upon than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will. Though you fret me, you cannot play upon me." Meaning, the world is constantly playing its notes upon our psyche. Certain individuals may provoke a response that they seek against our will. We say, "Oh, that person is someone I dislike strongly." The fact that we tend to lack full autonomy in certain situations illustrates that we are mechanical.
If in a moment of anger we can step back from that sentiment, that feeling, and not give into that impulse, that indicates to us that we are controlling and stepping away from that conditioned mind, that negative self, and we are learning to see from a state of objectivity, which in itself creates a serene mind. We want to be serene, peaceful. We want to know God. Anyone who approaches religion wants to know a quality of consciousness that is free from suffering, and the object of these studies is to understand the causes that produce our suffering, and also the suffering of others, and how to change them. We want to free ourselves from this conditioned mind, this tendency to react constantly to life. Instead, we want to learn how to respond in an objective, conscious, peaceable manner, with virtue, with ethical discipline. This brings us to the point of the necessity of training the mind, disciplining that which is conditioned within us.
Discipline of Mind
We have in this image a woman being crowned by an angel and the following poem by the mystic Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, where he states the importance of this discipline of mind:
“Let's ask God to help us to self-control, for one who lacks it, lacks his grace. The undisciplined person doesn't wrong himself alone, but sets fire to the whole world. Discipline enabled heaven to be filled with light. Discipline enabled the angels to be immaculate and holy. The peacock's plumage is his enemy. The world is the mountain, and each action the shout that echoes back. The discipline and rough treatment are a furnace to extract the silver from the dross.”
What is this peacock's plumage? If we examine our mind, we see that we may entail or contain many elements of pride, a sense of self that feels important, that does not want to be criticized or rejected or ostracized. We are, in spiritual language, that peacock. All of us possess a sense of self-esteem that does not want to be hurt. But it's precisely this subjective egotistical sense of self which is the impetus of our suffering. That plumage, that self-image that we carry in our mind, in our psyche, is our enemy. Instead, we have a different image in the soul that can exist if we know how to develop it, which is the divine, a divine image. But usually we have our own psychological tendencies, such as pride, self-esteem, self-importance, arrogance, etc., that we adorn ourselves with, like the peacock.
And the world is the mountain, and each action the shout that echoes back, meaning cause and effect. There are psychological causes for happiness, and there are also physical causes for happiness and sorrow. Certain actions will produce harmful results. We know this obviously from religion. But psychologically speaking, we have elements that we ignore, sadly, because with the law of cause and effect, our psychological actions, meaning our thoughts, our feelings, our will, have an effect on others, have an effect within ourselves. Usually we tend to think that we exist in this bubble and that we can say what we want, feel what we want, think what we want, and that it won't have any consequence. But all spiritual studies, or better said, all genuine religions teach that we become what we think. Mind precedes phenomena, according to the Buddha in his Dhammapada.
“This discipline and rough treatment are a furnace to extract the silver from the dross.” What is that pure silver that we seek to develop? It is the immaculate nature of the soul that has been removed of all its conditions. The dross is the imperfections that we created, but by implementing a discipline, in putting forth the causes of liberation, we could say, we purify ourselves like a furnace. But for this to happen, we must enter the fires of emotional crises, painful circumstances, so that we confront our own secret ugliness with the express purpose of eliminating our desires, our defects and faults. But of course, I like how Rumi says that it's rough treatment. It's not pleasant to face one's mistakes and to confront them and to want to change them. It takes a strong sense of heroism to want to overcome our causes that produce our suffering.
Levels of Spiritual Instruction and Discipline
So this spiritual discipline has been known in different religions in a certain structure. There are three levels of instruction given throughout Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc. We could say that there are levels of spiritual discipline, levels of work which have been taught in different languages, in different ways, and in this image we have the three levels of instruction, introductory, intermediate, and advanced, in accordance with the Muslim doctrine, but I'm going to give you some other references to show the universality of this.
The introductory teachings have been known as Shariah, the exoteric doctrine of Islam. In Judaism, we call it the body of the doctrine, known as the Torah. Certain scriptures have certain levels of application to our life. And so in Judaism, we say that the Torah is the body of the doctrine, the introduction to the Jewish mysticism. We also have intermediate teaching, which is known as Tariqah in Arabic, meaning the path. This is the mesoteric, or middle way into the heart of religion. And in Judaism, we find this mystical path is known by the Talmud, which is a philosophical discourse on the Torah.
Then likewise, we have an advanced teaching, an advanced discipline, which in Arabic is known as Marifah or Haqiqah, meaning knowledge or truth. This is the esoteric teaching, the hidden teaching—a very high level of discipline we can access if we know how. So, in Judaism, we say that these advance teaching is known as the Zohar, or known by the body of literature in the Kabbalistic tradition by the scripture, Book of Splendors, Zohar.
Buddhism has its own application to this. The introductory level is known as Shravakayana. Shravaka means “listener, he who hears.” Yana means vehicle, or level of instruction or practice. All of us who begin any spiritual studies, we have to hear first. We learn to listen, and then we learn to apply it in our practice and our path, which develops into the intermediate teaching, which is when we're applying this knowledge and making it practical, and where we're getting results, known as Tariqah. In Buddhism, this intermediate path is known as Mahayana, very famous in relation to Tibetan Buddhism. Maha means great. Yana means vehicle. This level of discipline is much more advanced.
In the first level of teaching, introductory discipline, we are seeking to develop our own spirituality for ourselves, meaning: we wish to stop suffering and so we seek to put in place the causes that are going to help to prevent us from suffering further. In this intermediate path, our spirituality and spiritual discipline is based more on helping others. Whereas we benefited our own selves, we developed some equanimity of mind, and then with our spirituality, we seek to help the spirituality of others, or to help others in a positive sense, in any way we are capable. Then with the advanced teaching, it pertains to more expedient methods, known as Tantrayana in Tibetan Buddhism. Tantra is, we could say the diamond vehicle, the superior vehicle, which has practices and methods which are very transcendental, which require a lot of purity of mind to enact.
So there are levels of instruction, levels of discipline we engage with. You could say that in the opening level of Shariah, relates to how we discipline ourselves. How do we curtail negative habits? This word Shariah, of course if we're familiar with the news, has a lot of baggage. In the Middle East, it pertains to punitive laws in relation to Muslim countries. But according to the Sufis, this term, is more internal, specific. It pertains to what are the modes of conduct we engage with to be spiritual. It doesn't mean to follow the certain laws of certain countries. Instead, it means to discipline the mind. That's how the Sufis denominate this teaching.
Then with the intermediate paths, we seek to cultivate our knowledge deeper, in a more profound manner. The thing to remember with these gradations of discipline is we seek to move from a self-centered focus to a focus on others. This doesn't mean the spiritual luminaries of humanity want us to be a teacher or a preacher or to be giving some form of transmission of knowledge in this sense, but instead it could pertain to whatever obligation we are placed with in life, in which divinity places us so that we can better ourselves.
The Divine Law and Reality
Now the Sufis explained these three paths, the introductory, intermediate, and the advanced levels of discipline in the following manner. This is from Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri, where he elaborates on points we made previously.
"The divine law, Shariah, commands one to the duty of servant-hood. The way, Tariqah, or the inner reality, Haqiqah is the contemplation of divine lordship."
And so also in terms of this discipline, with Shariah we are learning to curtail negative habits, followed by the ten commandments or other codes of conduct. Don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat, don't fornicate, don't commit adultery, don't harm others. This is in order to help us to serve divinity in our physical life. But as we explained previously, the inner reality, or that advanced stage of practice is the actual experience of the divine, Haqiqah. Haqq means “truth” in Arabic. And this truth is, we're given the Arabic terms, but this truth is known in different names. It just depends on the tradition you're referring to. And so the Way, reality, Haqiqah, is to contemplate divine lordship, meaning to know and experience the divine. Contemplation, meditation, these are states of consciousness in which one is fully connected with our source in a divine sense.
One thing we will emphasize: the Shariah is the discipline we engage with in our life in order to serve the divine. We could say that this is a form of fear, but not in the egotistical sense. People often talk about fearing God, and of course that phrase has a lot of baggage associated with it, too. We're not talking about fear from some person or to not commit an act because someone told us not to but because we know that the consequences will produce suffering and that we feel that remorse, that sense of conscience that knows that we should not behave in that way. Shariah is to fear God, meaning: to fear the consequences of one's actions, because we are accountable before the divine, and that our actions, depending on how we live, produce happiness or sorrow for others, and we are weighed and evaluated based on that by our own divinity, by our own being, we could say. Going back to the quote from the beginning by Al-Wasiti, the intensity of loving him, the intensity of loving the divine, that is Haqiqah, the path to the truth. That form of discipline in which someone as a master, spiritually speaking, is accessing God all the time and has no forgetfulness. That's a very high level of discipline. In the beginning, we're trying to be mindful, be aware of ourselves, moment by moment, day by day, through self-observation, self-awareness.
When we learn to access those deeper states of concentration, meditation as well as experiencing the divine, we access those higher levels, known as Haqiqah, in which in the beginning we are fearing God, meaning to fear the consequences of our actions, to have a sense of caution, to know that what we do cannot be taken away. Every action has a consequence. But if you wish to overcome the consequences of wrong action, what we do is seek to replace it with a superior action, because a superior law, the divine law above transcends our daily life, and so it can overcome those mistaken actions we engage with. In the beginning, we fear God, and in the end, we love God because we know Him directly.
We also explained the following quote previously:
"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, which is us, the soul, while the way is founded upon the free action or experience of the real. The divine law, Shariah, is that you serve him. The way is that you see him." ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
We mentioned that in order to experience God, we need to implement the methods that are going to give us the results we seek, and that it is not enough just to want to have the experience. We have to practice. Hence of course, in this tradition, the Gnostic tradition, we have many exercises, which we give at the end of each lecture, that you can engage with so that you can come to know divinity directly.
“The divine law is doing what you have been ordered to do. Haqiqah, the truth, is bearing witness to what he has determined and ordained hidden and revealed. I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq (who is the Sufi teacher of this writer, Al-Qushayri) say that in God's saying in the opening book of the Qur’an, iyyāka naʿbudu: “You we worship.” This preserves the outward practice, the divine law. Iyyāka nastaʿīnu: “To you we turn for help,” establishes the inner reality, the way.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So with “you do we worship,” we're putting forth causes to practice, spiritually speaking. And it's by implementing those practices that we can receive that grace. You cannot have one without the other. It is a simple law of cause and effect. In order to know God, we have to learn how to meditate, which is something we'll be building up towards progressively in these lectures.
“So know that religious obligation is a spiritual reality and that it was made necessary by his command. Spiritual reality is a religious obligation and that the realizations of him were also made necessary by his command.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
Practice and experience, these have to go hand in hand, and we need to cultivate both. How do we do so? Discipline in a spiritual sense does not necessarily refer to some kind of military exercises or a chore, something that is boring or in a negative sense. Instead, this spiritual discipline is based upon the joy of experiencing the results, or by when we engage with a practice, whether it's a mantra, a sacred sound, or in meditation, we naturally see the benefits of our actions, and that we are more inclined to engage with that discipline. But of course this type of work implies a direction of will, or better said, a re-direction of will. So we need to learn how to develop a spiritual will, a conscious will that does not obey the conditioning of the mind. It is will that is free of conditions. It knows how to act, to respond with equanimity, with serenity, with peace of mind to any situation. This is the foundation, or the beginning of entering the path of spirituality.
Spiritual and Egotistical Will
“Iradah, the will to find God, is the beginning of the path of spiritual travelers, the first title given to those who are determined to reach God Most High. This attribute is only called iradah because will is the preface to every undertaking. When the servant does not will, he does not carry out. Since this is the start of the enterprise of one who travels the path of God Almighty and Glorious, it is called ‘will’ by analogy to the resolution involved at the beginning of everything else.” –Al-Qushayri, Risalah: Principles of Sufism
The word Iradah relates, in Arabic relates to riyadat, which means discipline as well, which we're going be talking about in the next few slides.
As I mentioned to you, we seek to develop willpower free from conditions, a will that does not depend on anger, on fear, on resentment. We say that those negative psychological qualities are desires. They're conflicting wills that always push us to act in contradictory ways. The willpower we seek to develop is one that is free of conditioning and belongs to the divine. But the will we have to access, in order to access this, we have to abandon many habits, many forms of conditions.
In this graphic we have the famous Bacchanalias of Rome, the famous orgies and feasts where people abandon themselves to alcohol and sex, indulging in sensual pleasures at the expense of the soul. This is a symbol for us at least in relation to this lecture of how the mind is constantly addicted to sensations and experiences, wanting to engage with certain habits, certain impulses which, when satiated, only come back more hungry with more force. It is the mistake of pop psychology in this day and age that states that by feeding desire you will reach a type of catharsis, meaning that it is nullified, it is annihilated. People commonly believe that by feeding desire, giving into what you want in an egotistical sense, you will satiate that desire and it will go away. The truth is that by feeding desire, you strengthen it. By feeding that negative will, by giving into anger, we feed that anger. We strengthen that cage, as we were speaking of previously. Instead, we have to learn how to restrain that impulse, which is done precisely through the effort of the pure consciousness, which in Gnostic psychology is known as essence, the essence of the divine.
The Sufis emphasize the following in relation to the type of psychology we need to develop and to abandon:
“Many people talked about the meaning of will, each expressing the extent it has manifested to his heart. Most shaykhs, or teachers, say that will means the abandonment of what has become habitual. What is habitual for people in the vast majority of cases is dwelling in the realms of unconsciousness, basing one's life on the pursuit of the passions, and inclining toward whatever one’s desires call for. The spiritual aspirant is someone who has cast off all this.” ―Al-Qushayri, Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So as I mentioned to you, the beginning of accessing real spirituality is overcoming desire.
Question: I feel like this is pressing, when you take it all away, are you truly taking it all away? Because there's something that must be left, especially if the desire comes from somewhere.
Instructor: Good question. The desire is a cage, is a shell, what we call an ego, a sense of “I” or of self. Within that conditioning, within that shell is the consciousness, part of our soul that's trapped. If we want to develop our spirituality, we have to break those cages, and then you liberate the soul like the genie from Aladdin's lamp, which can grant you the wishes of any spiritual wish you long for.
Question: What you're saying is that we've taken the desire to find what's really there?
Instructor: Through comprehension of that defect, that desire, we learn to eliminate them and free the energy that's trapped inside, and that builds more consciousness, which develops our willpower further to accomplish greater spiritual works. But, of course, to do that, we have to overcome the Bacchanalia of the mind, meaning the mind's tendency to want to indulge in sensations and negative habits, whether it be through drinking alcohol to excess, or that desire, that craving for sexuality, of indulging with the impulses of the body, but without any sense of spirituality. We talk extensively about how one can learn to use one's physicality, one's body, one's mind, one's heart, and one's sexuality, one's creative energies in the body in order to develop one's spirituality. This is very well known in Tantric Buddhism, known in writings such as The Perfect Matrimony.
But in this topic, we're talking about how to abandon the conditions in the mind of desire, of trying to feed cravings that can never be satiated. Instead, to develop equanimity and pure serene will, one has to break the cage. But when I talk about willpower, I don't refer to something rigid, something dogmatic, something impulsive. It refers to an effortless state of consciousness that knows how to act appropriately in any given circumstance. That type of willpower, we can taste it if we learn to meditate and awaken our perception.
This type of will was illustrated by Jesus of Nazareth in his Passion. We see here in this image, he's praying in the garden of Gethsemane and he physically demonstrated for us the path of spirituality and spiritual will that we need to fulfill in ourselves. Now this path doesn't mean that we have to live like Jesus, meaning physically how he did. Instead, it pertains to how we apply our psyche, our consciousness to adhere to the values he taught. Here he's praying before his passion, knowing that he's going to be crucified, where he stated, “Thy will be done,” meaning “Father, if it is possible, take this cup of bitterness from me, but not my will but Thine be done.” This is a very powerful teaching about how the disciple who enters this teaching or this path finds that there are many forms of bitterness one has to face in relation to confronting one's own impurities, meaning one's defects. Facing certain situations is very challenging, but this is precisely the purging and the furnace in which the silver is extracted from the dross. He says, "Thy will be done, not mine." It is this trust in the divine will, in which our will obeys the will of divinity, in which we can access true peace and overcome our greatest problems. But every one of us will have his own type of Passion; we could say, ordeals, struggles, challenges which we have to face and conquer.
The Sufis teach the following in relation to the relationship between our will and the divine:
“According to etymology, the disciple is ‘he who possesses will,’ just as the knower is ‘he who possesses knowledge,’ because the word belongs to the class of derived nouns. But in Sufi usage, the disciple is he who possesses no will at all! (Meaning no egotistical will, no self-will, me, myself, mine. It is a will that knows how to obey the divine commandments). Here, one who does not abandon will, (or better said egotistical will) cannot be called a disciple just as linguistically one who does not possess will (meaning conscious will, spiritual will) cannot be called a disciple.” ―Al-Qushayri, Risalah: Principles of Sufism
There's this duality there. It's written in a very enigmatic way to confuse people who were not initiated to the teaching. Instead, it's speaking in a very objective sense, meaning if you want to develop real spirituality, you have to abandon all desire, all self-will, the sense of me, my, and access the true self, which is beyond conditions. That was demonstrated by the path of the will of Christ. In this process, we learn to strive against our own impurities, our own mind.
It is through the path of confronting our own defects in which we learn to acquire true peace. This is known as the doctrine of mujahadah in Arabic, which is where you get the word jihad. The word jihad has many negative connotations today, especially on the news. Sadly, this teaching has degenerated. It's been misappropriated, because the real meaning of the word jihad is not holy war, it is striving to mortify the self, to confront the impurities of the psyche and to change them.
Now, Prophet Muhammad was asked by his Companions after they were defending themselves from a group of—I believe it was the Meccans who were trying to kill him, and so rightfully so, he needed to defend himself. The Prophet Muhammad stated, "We are now leaving the lesser holy war to the greater holy war," and the Companions asked, "What, oh Muhammad, is the greater holy war and the lesser holy war?" "The lesser war," he said, "is to defend yourself or to fight in battle, but the greater holy war is to fight against your own desires, your own defects, your own wishes, and really to do the divine will." So, in Arabic there are other words for war, but jihad unfortunately through time has been translated to have that meaning. But jihad means striving to fight against one's own afflictions. This is the basis of spirituality. Confronting and overcoming our own lower self, our conditioned self, and learning to liberate the soul that's trapped in it by comprehending those cages and eliminating them.
So we have the following quote from the Risalah of Qushayri: Principles of Sufism, that elaborates on these points:
"Know that the foundation and rationale of struggle or striving (mujahadah) is to wean the ego from what is familiar to it and to induce it to oppose its desires (passions) at all times."
We explained before the ego is this negative self that says, "Me, my, I must have, I must do, I must act." Of course this term ‘ego’ has become popularized in modern culture, especially from the work of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, but in Gnostic psychology, ego is not just one sense of self. It is a multiplicity. Every sentiment, every thought, every feeling, every memory can be associated to different defects, different selves, different fragments of consciousness, conditions that have trapped our soul. As a result of our wrong actions in the past, we created these different fragmentations of self, and it is by learning to comprehend these individual defects in which we learn to destroy them, to liberate the soul. And so the ego as we say refers to this pluralized sense of self, this multiple sense of selves. We can say ego is one, as in an ego, but also ego is the whole conglomeration of defects that we have, which is represented in the bible by the story of Jesus exorcising a man who was possessed by demons, in which the man said, "Leave us alone, Jesus," and Jesus said, "Who are you?" And the man said, "I am Legion, for we are many." It's a symbol of the nature of our soul and it's not just a little history of someone in the past, but something psychological.
We say the ego, animal soul, is animal-like because it only seeks to fulfill its own desire, its own impetus. “The ego (animal soul) has two traits that prevent it from good, total preoccupation with cravings, (attraction of pleasure), and refusal of obedience (avoidance of pain and harm).” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
There's this duality of the mind, meaning craving, aversion; to want to feed desire and then want to run away from pain. These are egotistical tendencies.
From Al-Qushayri’s Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism:
“When the ego is defined in the pursuit of desire, it must be curbed with the reigns of awe of God,” meaning the remembrance of the divine presence in us. This is self-awareness. “When it stubbornly refuses to conform to God's will it must be steered toward opposing its desires, when it rages in anger [at being opposed], its state should be controlled. No process has a better outcome than the breaking of the power of anger by developing good character traits and by extinguishing its fires by gentleness,” which is why Prophet Muhammad said, "The strongest among you is he who controls his anger." And Samael Aun Weor, the founder of this tradition, the modern Gnostic tradition stated that “kindness is a much more crushing force than anger.” We can heal with compassion. We can disarm an enemy with kindness when it is genuine.
“And if the soul finds sweetness in the wine of arrogance, (meaning an intoxicated psychological state, which is a symbol of not just physical drinking but indulging in desire, indulging in psychological tendencies that are harmful, which make one drunk and unaware of one's self) it will become incapable of anything but showing off its great deeds and preening itself before anyone who will look at it and notice it. It is necessary to break it of this habit, dissolving it with the punishment of humiliation by the means of whatever will make the soul remember its paltry worth, its lowly origin, and its despicable acts.” ―Al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah: Principles of Sufism
So humiliation does not mean we flagellate ourselves like certain sects, whether in the Middle East or Europe, as monks in the Middle Ages did. The type of humiliation we speak of is humility, to be humble. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Or better said, blessed are the non-resentful, meaning to not harbor negative sentiment toward any other person, but instead to receive criticism from a state of humility.
It is really in different circumstances in which we are confronted with conflicts that we can attain the most spiritual growth. In a moment where someone criticizes us and we restrain our pride in order to not retaliate with our verb, we in turn can develop humility. We recognize that sense of self that is attached to what this person says or doesn't do, is really ludicrous. “It shouldn't have any hold on me,” we should say. “Instead, this defect is something I need to work against, and in fact the person who criticizes me is doing me a favor and is opening the doors for my spirituality. Therefore I should pay more attention and work on my own sense of self, which wants to constantly react.” And that is how we humiliate the negative self. We don't give it what it wants, don't feed it. And of course when you don't feed a desire, it comes back and it fights and it becomes very hungry, which is why this is a spiritual battle, spiritual conflict, and a spiritual training.
Kabbalah and Self-Discipline
In this graphic we have an image we study extensively in this tradition. This is the Hebraic Tree of Life known in the book of Genesis alongside the Tree of Knowledge. It is a symbol of states of consciousness, levels and qualities of being, from the highest regions of perception above to the lowest level of matter, energy, and perception below. Below we have this sphere of Malkuth which in Hebrew means kingdom. This is our physical body. We're going to explain the nature of this spiritual discipline in relation to this graphic because this graphic can help us understand who we are, where we are, what we need to change, what we need to work against, what we need to work with in relation to the following quote, whereby we study the nature of controlling these animalistic tendencies, animalistic desires which we contain within our subconsciousness and our lower psychological depths.
The following is given by a Sufi master by the name of Hujwiri, in his book Revelation of the Mystery, where he explains how this spiritual discipline is a matter of training the animality of the mind, the instinctiveness, the impulsivity of the mind to always want to satisfy its desires:
"Does not training, riyadat," this is the Persian word for riyadat, the Arabic word for training, "alter the animal qualities of a wild horse and substitute human qualities in their stead so that he will pick up a whip from the ground and give it to his master or will roll a ball with his foot. In the same way, a boy without sense in a foreign race is taught by training to speak Arabic and take a new language in exchange for his mother tongue. And a savage beast is trained to go away when leave is given to it and to come back when it is called, preferring captivity to freedom. Therefore Sahl (a Sufi master he's referring to) and his followers argue." ―Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
Mortification, meaning striving or mujahadah, mortification referring to humiliation of the ego, to confront the ego, to work against it, to fight against it, and to mortify it. The word mort is the prefix for the word death, and this word refers to the death of those animalistic desires in order to preserve the life of the spirit within us. Through death we gain to spiritual life, as Francis of Assisi taught in his famous prayer: "It is in dying that we live and inherit everlasting life," he said.
So therefore his followers argue:
"Mortification, striving, mujahadah is just as necessary for the attainment of union with God as diction and composition are necessary for the elucidation of ideas. As one is led to knowledge of the creator by assurance that the universe was created by him, so one is led to union with God by knowledge and mortification of the lower soul." ―Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
What is it that we need to mortify? We were talking a lot about willpower. In this tree of life we see at the very center of this graphic, the sphere known as Tiphereth in Hebrew, which means beauty. It can also mean resplendence, splendor. This is the beauty of the soul. This is willpower. And it's the center of the tree of life because this is how we access either the heavenly regions above or how we give into desires below.
Below the sphere of Tiphereth we have what's known as Netzach in Hebrew, meaning “Victory” relating to the mind, to thought, to reasoning. To the left we have this sphere of Hod, in Hebrew means “Glory.” This is our sentimentality, our emotionality, our feelings. Below that we have Yesod, meaning “Foundation.” This is our vitality, our energies: that which gives us strength in the morning when we wake up from sleep, that which allows us to physically exist. It can also refer to the energy responsible for our body for producing our biochemistry, our health, our catabolism, our metabolism, our sexual impulses, the energies that give us life physically, etc. Below that, we have Malkuth, which is our physical body.
Above that sphere of Tiphereth, this willpower, we have the divine spheres. Below that we have what we can call the inferior soul: mind, emotion, vitality, and physicality. These are things that we typically use in a negative manner, meaning whether we have negative thoughts, negative feelings, or we produce negative actions with our physicality, our body. Our willpower is part of our soul above, and we see that Tiphereth is human soul. It is the capacity for genuine spiritual beauty, because beautiful action is as contingent upon this fear of action. So remember that these are spheres of being, of consciousness, but also expressions of matter, energy, and perception. This also refers to different dimensions of nature, because our psyche exists in different dimensions and even physically we see that we may be aware of thought, feeling, and sensation. Sensation of course relates to our body, but thoughts and feelings themselves aren't necessarily physical, but we sense them. These are senses that belong to a different level of consciousness or dimensionality that all mix and penetrate and co-penetrate without confusion here within us, here and now.
This tree is not something outside. It's something inside, something psychological. It refers to dimensions we can access when the physical body is asleep, and we access the world of dreams where we can see these different regions of this tree of a life in a more subtle manner. But this pertains more to our psychology.
Above willpower we have the consciousness, which is divine, the Divine Soul. And then we have Spirit, pertaining to our own inner God, our inner Buddha, our true being. Above that we have this famous trinity known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Hebrew it is Kether, Chokmah, and Binah: “Crown,” “Wisdom,” and “Understanding” or “Intelligence.” These are forces. These are not physical people as the church teaches. Instead, it pertains to qualities of energy and perception that are very high.
So we have to use our will to control these lower spheres, to control our thoughts, control our feelings, and control our body in order to follow the will of divinity above. Thy will be done—the Spirit and the divine spheres above. Thy will be done on earth, this body, as it is in heaven. It refers to this graphic. We will talk more in depth throughout our courses about the intricacies of this image and different levels and depths of this teaching. But here we're just giving it in a very synthetic way to give you some context.
We see that to strive against one's defects is to enter into contemplation. To contemplate the divine, to meditate on the divine is a matter of comprehension. Comprehension is a profound psychological state in which we access divinity here and now. The Sufis emphasize that if you want to know God you have to fight against your own desires. This doesn't mean to flagellate oneself, to become a morbid person, to become negative, to become melancholic or sad or dejected, because if we look in the mind we see there are elements that are very chaotic and that we don't want, but this is no justification for repression or for a self-flagellating type of attitude, like “I am a bad person and therefore I deserve to suffer.” That is totally not what we're speaking about. That is a negative attitude born from ignorance. On the one hand, there is the craving and aversion. There are two extremes: wanting something and wanting to reject something. These are qualities of mind that we typically swing back and forth between in our daily life which is the pendulum that keeps us hypnotized, keeps us unaware.
On the other hand, consciousness and this striving against oneself is born from a state of peace, of equanimity, of self-awareness that is not impelled or conditioned or manipulated by those different forces. Instead, it's a state of peaceful mind in which we can see clearly, “Oh, this sense of anger is arising in me. I see it and I'm separate from it and therefore I can develop this opposite which is compassion.” Likewise with fear: “Oh, I understand this element of fear is rising in me therefore I'm going to remember my God who is the life of the galaxy, of the cosmos, of the universe. Therefore why should I feel insecure when my own divinity is responsible for the universe? Therefore there's no need for fear.” Then fear is nullified. We comprehend it. We understand the virtues associated or trapped within that vice, you could say. For every vice we have, every defect, there is a virtue we can develop when we extract the soul from that cage.
“Those who strive to the upmost for our sake,” says the Qur’an, “we will guide them into our ways.” (Sura 29, verse 69) Meaning, whoever mortifies himself or strives against his defects will attain to contemplation. “Furthermore, he contends that in as much as the books revealed to the prophets and the sacred law (Shariah, the introductory level instruction), and all the religious ordinances imposed on mankind involve mortification (striving against oneself). They must all be false and vain if mortification was not the cause of contemplation.” ―Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
This means if your mind is chaotic, if you sit to relax and observe your mind, to meditate, you find that there are many distractions that emerge, whether they are memories, daydreams, preoccupations, thoughts of what to do later in the day, what happened in the past, any resentments, fears, worries; these are all surging elements that are chaotic. Of course, in the beginning when we observe that fact, many times we become horrified that this state of being is harming us. The truth is we're just becoming aware now for the first time of our daily mindset. One has to be brave and courageous to continue further, meaning to not be dismayed but to have courage and strength in order to face the chaotic mind and in order to confront it, to change it, to achieve equanimity.
It is with a mind that is free of desire, of thinking, of subjective sentimentalism, feeling, etc., in which the lake of the mind can be clear, pure and pristine in order to reflect the starry images and heavens above. Any time we act upon a desire in our mind, or physically, that is like a rock that lands into the lake and causes a ripple. It is like a ripple that disturbs the lake of the mind and becomes agitated. And likewise we need to learn to transform the impressions we receive in life with equanimity and peace of mind, so that that lake does not become agitated. When it's pure and peaceful, calm, serene, then we can reflect heaven above within our psychological interior.
“Again, both in this world and the next, everything is connected with principles and causes. If it is maintained that principles have no causes then there is an end to all law and order. Neither can religious obligations be justified, nor will food be the cause of repletion and clothes the cause of warmth.” ―Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
There are two levels of individuals, human beings: those of spiritual discipline and those who have attained those heights of contemplation, which is why the following Sufi master, Abu 'l-Sari Mansur Ibn. 'Ammar said the following:
"All mankind may be reduced to two types. The man who knows himself and whose business is self-mortification, striving, and discipline, and the man who knows his Lord, whose business is to serve and worship and please him. Accordingly, the worship of the former is discipline, riyadat," which of course depends on Iradah, willpower, spiritual will, "while the worship of the latter is sovereignty, riyasat. The former practice is devotion in order that he may attain a higher degree," the former devotion constituting the introductory level. We practice so that we can eventually experience that truth for ourselves, Haqiqah above. "But the latter practices devotion having already attained all. What a vast difference between the two!" ―Al-Hujwiri, Revelation of the Mystery
One is the discipline of the mind, and the other is the discipline of sovereignty. A sovereign is a king or a queen of nature: a being that has fully mastered him or herself. And so we have to ask ourselves, are we kings and queens of nature, meaning are we fully masters of our thoughts, feelings, actions, impulses, or are we impelled by them? That's a question we have to ask ourselves in order to develop our spirituality.
Faith, Belief, and Will
We emphasize throughout these teachings that there's a difference between faith and belief. We see that belief in itself is a concept of the mind, is a sentiment of the heart—feeling and thinking that something is true simply based on that feeling and that thinking without having the experience of that truth. Now we have to emphasize in this teaching that the willpower we seek to enact is what develops genuine faith. Faith is not belief. To believe that something is true is a concept of the mind or of the heart, a sentiment of the heart, whereas we say that genuine faith is knowing from experience. You put certain causes and effect and you will reap the result.
Now based on this definition, we have the following quote from The Dayspring of Youth by the Master Morya. He said the following:
"Here we think a note upon faith should be of interest. Initiates (or spiritual masters) say that its meaning has been misunderstood. Faith as the world uses it possesses no spiritual nature. Though in the secondary system it means power and energy applied to action. All success in yoga," yoga meaning from the Sanskrit yug, to unite with the divine, or the Latin, religare, religion, to reunite, it is the same meaning. "All success in yoga comes from this application. For the true quality of faith is a solar force that illumines the mind and attracts to it atoms of power and energy. More human wrecks have resulted from their misconception of this quality than man realizes." ―M. The Dayspring of Youth
This means it is not enough just to think that something is true or to feel something is true. Those are subjective qualities of the ego. Instead, faith is conscious experience. We know something is true from fact, what we have verified, what gnosis we have gained. And likewise, it is by applying our will to spiritual practice in which we can strengthen that willpower and attain the genuine heights of spirituality, which is why the apostle James stated the following in chapter 2 of his book, verses 14 to 17:
"What doth it profit, my brethren, if someone sayeth he hath faith, but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother and sister is naked and destitute of daily food and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace and be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself if it does not have works is dead."
Now to conclude this lecture, we'll end with a certain practice you can use to develop spiritual will and develop genuine faith. This is known as the Runic yoga in the Gnostic tradition. The Nordic alphabet is an ancient letter system that implies a very deep yogic practice. Positioning the body in certain postures in order to sing prayer and mantras in order to invoke spiritual energies or in this case in this exercise we have for today, this is known as the Rune Dorn, in order to develop spiritual willpower, or we could say Christ's will. Christ is not just Jesus, but the energy he incarnated, the higher three spheres on the Tree of Life we talked about, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, that tri-unity, that tri-force, which can enter into us when we are prepared.
With this exercise we learn to inoculate our psyche, our body with those high forces, those energies. What you do is you stand with your feet together facing the east when the sun rises. So as soon as you get up from bed, face the east, put your left hand on your left side, your right hand on your right hip, and you pronounce the following mantras: Ta, Te, Ti, To, Tu. Each vowel is prolonged. The sacred sounds when you prolong them and make them vibrate in your body, they activate the glands. They invoke spiritual energies which will invigorate your will and help you to fight against that conditionality and negativity of the psyche.
Simply, this image refers to and looks like a hammer. It is the hammer of Dorn, the God Dorn in Nordic mythology, the God Thor, unfortunately mimicked in Marvel Comics now, but this is a symbol of superior willpower. When you pronounce those mantras prolonged, taaaaaaaaaaa, teeeeeeeeeeee, tiiiiiiiiiii, tooooooo, tuuuuuuuuuu, prolonging each vowel with your full breath inhale, pronounce one of those vowels completely until your lungs are exhausted and then likewise with the next vowel, with ta, te, ti, to, tu.
That activates certain energetic centers in the body, in the psyche known as chakras in Hinduism to activate spiritual faculties. That is how we can strengthen our willpower and give you energy to apply to your spiritual life. If you find that you're sluggish mentally, emotionally, physically, even if you get enough sleep, this is a very powerful practice that invokes those forces, especially if you get up very early in the morning, like five or six, whenever the sun rises, and praying to the divine, you can place your hands on your heart. We do this in the Sufi style or the Egyptian style, right hand over your left over your heart, and whatever words you have naturally, pray to the divine. Say, "My Lord, please grant me spiritual strength in my work in order to fill my heart and soul with peace and with energy." Then do the mantras, like this, the vowels. This is the Runic language or the Runic yoga, which we'll be giving courses about in the future.
Question: So we say each of those with one breath?
Instructor: It is “Ta,” one breath, and then the next, “Te,” another breath, and so on with the rest of the vowels. And focus when you mantralize. When you pronounce those sounds, feel the vibration of the vowel in your own mantralization, and focus on the energies that it provokes, and you'll find that it really will, especially if you practice in the morning, when it is good to get up very early and the energies are very conducive to meditate and to pray. This is why the Qur’an teaches the recitation at dawn, how beautiful is that to get up in the morning to pray and to seek remembrance of the divine. It's very powerful. And simply you can do this for ten minutes, you could do it for 30. For however long you feel.
Question: It should be done in the morning?
Instructor: It can be done in the morning. It's good, better in the morning, but you can do it in the evening too as well, at night. But it is best in morning hours, which are always more conducive for spiritual practice. This develops Christ's will, the will of Christ, the will of the divine in us as it is in heaven.
Question: You were discussing how we need to break our mechanical reactivity to life, for example, "If in a moment of anger we can step back from that sentiment, that feeling, and not give into that impulse, that indicates to us that we are controlling and stepping away from that conditioned mind, that negative self, and we are learning to see from a state of objectivity, which in itself creates a serene mind." Similarly, Gurdjieff often writes about the necessity for a man to engage in an internal struggle against his mechanicity; without struggle, there is no possibility to develop autonomy.
In my own practice, I get a bit tripped up over this point. Firstly, still being very much asleep, it is difficult to discern if the internal struggle is positive or egotistical. I have a personal tendency toward repression/depression, so while I appear to have considerable restraint at times, I find in meditation that this is often motivated by fear of doing something wrong more than spiritual discipline. I can avoid performing a harmful behavior yet blind myself to the desire provoking it.
It seems like at the beginning of our spiritual work, before we have cultivated sufficient psychological equilibrium, we just have to make effort to restrain any will because it is likely selfish desire. However, if this leads to repression, we won't see the unconscious desires that are causing our suffering. Do we need such a strong force of renunciation just to push ourselves to start on the path? How can we aim for the right balance at the beginning?
Instructor: Samael Aun Weor explained the following that can help elucidate this topic for you:
"To experience the Truth is fundamental. It is not by means of exertion that we can experience the Truth. The Truth is not the result; the Truth is not the product of exertion. The Truth comes to us by means of profound comprehension. We need to exert ourselves in order to work in the Great Work and to transmute our creative energies. We need to exert ourselves to live, to struggle and to tread the path of Integral Revolution, but we do not need to exert ourselves in order to comprehend the Truth." ―Samael Aun Weor, The Revolution of the Dialectic
Comprehension takes no effort. It happens when we are observing our psychological states and do not expect anything. We simply see the psychological processes of the mind for what they are, without exertion (justification or morbidity / repression).
When the Sufis speak of striving, they refer to the meditative path of serenity as taught within Buddhism, the nine stages of shamatha. It takes great effort in the beginning to restrain the mind from harmful impulses and to concentrate oneself, yet this effort becomes effortless as we become acclimated to and familiar with such states the further one develops serenity.
You can measure how well you are striving against the mind in relation to how much you comprehend in yourself. Are you understanding the causes of suffering more? Are your psychological states more profound and serene? Do you learn to respond to the unpleasant manifestations of your fellow men and women with equanimity and compassion? Or are you stuck in the battle of the antitheses, reacting to life without comprehension or intuition?
The ego of shame can be a difficult obstacle to overcome, whereby we see our faults and make the error of reacting egotistically to what we perceive. The solution is to comprehend what shame is, which is inverted pride, the self that takes pride in, “I am a bad person!” It sounds funny, but when you observe this ego, this is how it functions. It thinks it knows what is bad, but it’s just reactionary. It’s a “Gnostic” ego that thinks it is doing the work and which everyone mistakenly creates when on this path.
The solution is to develop remorse, which is a conscious quality that recognizes the insignificance of our individual person before the majesty of divinity. Remorse is also the voice of conscience, the beauty and dignity of the human soul: Tiphereth. This occurs by seeing, by observing the process of thought and emotion involved in such a negative state such as shame, without labeling, hiding, or pushing it away.
When we comprehend shame, we feel great surprise, a shock of inspiration, since this is the dynamic expression, conscious shock, or intimate realization of our soul that perceives what we are and why we were suffering. We also perceive the beauty of our own soul by recognizing our errors, a recognition which should produce happiness, since “A discovered defect is a dead defect.” While it’s painful to see the reality of our mind, when self-observation and comprehension is profound, we develop joyful perseverance and beautiful action, because with comprehension of any ego in meditation, we also perceive and can understand the virtues trapped in it.
Renunciation is developed the more we comprehend the causes of suffering and no longer go back on behaviors that we know are negative. This always strengthens the consciousness the more we face and overcome trials and temptations.
We find balance through consistency of practice, by meditating daily on what we perceive in ourselves. We learn from joyfully receiving the unpleasant impressions of our fellow man and learning to act from compassion and awareness in the precise moments when we are on fire, tested and burned by circumstances. We learn through failing many times and struggling, reflecting on our behaviors, and making better choices when ordeals repeat, so that with time and experience, we perceive that we no longer suffer or make others suffer, but respond to difficult conditions with serenity and insight.
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