Sun, 13 Aug 2000

The path of mystics is rocky and bumpy

By Rahayu Ratnaningsih

JAKARTA (JP): In the previous article, I expounded the four different stages of spiritual development, namely Stage I: Chaotic, antisocial; Stage II: Formal, institutional; Stage III: Skeptic, individual; and Stage IV: Mystic, communal.

When people hear the word "mystic", what immediately comes to mind is quackery, voodoo, black magic and the like. Mysticism is actually a universal phenomenon among every religious movement that seeks hidden treasure in mainstream religions.

And what is astonishing is that through the ages, this much maligned word, mysticism, and mystics of every religious tradition -- from the Indian Yaqui in Mexico to the Sufis in the Middle East to the Lamas in the Himalayas -- a small minority they may be, have spoken of and demonstrated amazing commonality and unity of an underlying connectedness among all parts of the universe: Between men and women, between us and the other creatures and even inanimate matter as well, fitting together according to an ordinarily invisible fabric underlying the cosmos. Unique though they might be in their individual selves, they have largely escaped from -- transcended -- those human differences which are cultural. For this reason, Aldous Huxley labeled mysticism "the perennial philosophy".

Mystics, even though they sound "fuzzy", are by no means irrational people as frequently demonstrated by the Stage II religionists. Their Stage IV spirituality transcends the commonly perceived rationalism, hence Ken Wilber, the leading thinker on transpersonal psychology, calls it transrational: Beyond rationality.

Even Islam, the religion most blamed today for fanaticism and fundamentalism, recognizes these stages as Syariah (Islamic law), Tariqat (the path), Haqiqat (the truth) and Ma'rifat (the gnosis). The Taliban is an extreme example of those in the lowest Syariah stage. They see religion as a mere list of dos and don'ts, and little else.

Most Muslims are in the Syariah stage, a few develop their spirituality enough to hunger for the more substantial Tariqat stage and only a handful of "chosen ones" reach the mystical Haqiqat and Ma'rifat stages.

Niffari, a Sufi author, says: "The true mosque in a pure and holy heart is builded: There, let all men worship God; For there, He dwells, not in a mosque of stone."

At this highest stage, the religions people adhere to dissolving all their boundaries -- no more mistaking the finger (map/symbols) with the moon (territory/reality) -- and are called esoteric religions and this is the true, one religion -- that Islam calls Tawheed (meaning "one" or "unifying") -- that should be distinguished from the prerational, mythical religion of Stage II.

Jalalludin Rumi, the most renowned Sufi master, who is often called the greatest 13th century poet-mystic, asserted in Table Talk: "The paths are many, but the goal is one. Don't you see how many roads there are to the Kaaba? For some, the road starts from Rome, for others from Syria, from Persia or China; some come by sea from India and the Yemen. If you are considering the different roads, the variety is immense and the difference infinite. If you consider the goal, however, they are all in harmony. The hearts of each and every one of them are fixed upon the Kaaba. Each heart has one overriding attachment -- a passionate love for the Kaaba -- and in that there is no room for contradiction. That attachment to the Kaaba cannot be called either "impiety" or "faith": It is not mingled with the various paths we have mentioned. Once the travelers arrive at the Kaaba, all quarreling and vicious squabbling about the different paths -- this person saying to that "You're wrong! You're a blasphemer!" and the other shouting back in kind -- simply vanish; they realize that what they were fighting about were the roads only, and that their goal was one."

Mystics obviously deal with mystery. They, thus, acknowledge the enormity of the unknown, but rather than being frightened by it, they seek to penetrate ever deeper into it that they may understand more -- even with the realization that the more they understand, the greater the mystery will become -- and the more humble they become. This stage is an absolute contrast of Stage II, in which people need simple, clear-cut dogmatic structures and answers to life's difficult and ambiguous dilemmas, formulas to tell them how to behave and have little taste for the unknown and unknowable. While Stage IV people enter religion in order to approach mystery, people in stage II enter religion to escape from it.

See again how similar Sufism's point of view of ultimate reality is to the Hindu advaita (nonduality) -- which is also shared by the Buddhists -- or the Buddhist sunyata (emptiness) as uttered by Rumi, something that Orthodox Muslims will be mortified to read and won't think twice about labeling him and all Sufi followers infidels or blasphemers (the early Sufi Al Hallaj was executed for uttering his Hindu-like pantheistic belief: "The man of God is made wise by the Truth/ The man of God is not learned from book/ The man of God is beyond infidelity and faith/ To the man of God right and wrong are alike.")

In his collection of lyrical poems titled The Divan of Shamsi Tabriz, again Rumi says: "I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are one; One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call. I am intoxicated with Love's cup, the two worlds have passed out of my ken; I have no business save carouse and revelry."

Read his very Buddhist denial of the self and Zen-like scornful opposition to intellectual idolatry of theological doctrines/dogmas (the finger-moon analogy): "Do you know a name without a thing answering to it?/ Have you ever plucked a rose from R, O, S, E?/ You name His name; go seek the reality named by it!/ Look for the moon in the sky, not in the water!/ If you desire to rise above mere names and letters,/ Make yourself free from self at one stroke./ Become pure from all attributes of self,/ That you may see your own heart the knowledge of the Prophet/ Without Book, without tutor, without preceptor."

The great Persian mystic, Abu Said ibn Abi'l-Khayr, speaking in the name of the Calendars or wandering dervishes, expresses their iconoclastic principles with astonishing boldness: "Not until every mosque beneath the sun/ Lies ruined, will our holy work be done;/ And never will true Musalman appear/ Till faith and infidelity are one."

The author is a director of the Satori Foundation, a center for the study and development of human excellence through mind programming and meditation techniques, e-mail: