An introduction to ancient Persia’s metaphysics and spirituality by Andre Atabaki
Happiness is in acting without acting. There is neither happiness nor salvation in inaction. If the Principle became inactive for a moment the whole universe would collapse instantaneously. Acting without acting is acting without attachment to the fruits of the action. So one must be as detached from the world as a theater screen is from the images displayed on it.
In the plane of multiplicity, to which human action belongs, this disinterested action amounts to the effective coordination of the faculties in response to one’s duties, i.e. harmony within and without the microcosm, or what Plato has rightly called “Justice.”
But justice within microcosm cannot be attained without detachment. A sentimental person, and a sentimental society much like we have in the west, cannot possibly approach justice, let alone realize it, for sentimentality is precisely the glue by which we are attached to things, to names and forms.
“You must learn to see with the same eye a mound of earth and a heap of gold, a cow and a sage, a dog and a man who eats the dog. There is another intelligence beyond the mind.” Krishna says to Arjuna in Mahabharata
Names and forms veil the nature of things; and justice is in the nature of things. Illumination is an unveiling of the Real, a negative act. Manifestation is “finding the Real in ecstasy,”* a positive act. The latter projects the experience-of the universe; the former shuts its down, or more precisely it shuts down experience as such altogether. While the positive acts is the production of experience, the negative act is the cessation of experience, or what in various traditions is called Nirvana, Fanaa, Brahmanubhava, Sakina, Godhead, etc.
A man is happy when he is closer to that supreme state, when he has become all-inclusive and universal by transcending his individuality. And this man cannot help but be just and act justly.
So the attainment of justice, which is in the nature of man, is the negative process of purification, of peeling away the many layers of narratives until the Truth shines by itself, until justice becomes one’s permanent station, and only then true bliss ensues. This is the path of maximum action and minimum resistance, keeping in mind that contemplation is the most exalted form of action.
This creation contains all kinds of creatures, each being the locus of manifestation of certain qualities, qualities that are prefigured in the hidden principle of all manifestation. In other words, all creatures are nothing but the loci of manifestation of divine qualities. Each particular creature has a share in manifesting an aspect of its corresponding principle, much similar to the way each color of a rainbow is only an aspect of white light. If we extend this analogy further and see the colors of a rainbow as the different creatures, then man is not just one color among others: Man in his inward dimension is colorless; he is the white light that contains within him/herself, and in potential form, all the divine qualities and attributes. Thus, man is unique among all creatures because though he is one of them but he can act like any of them; he can become the most exalted in the world, but he can also become the basest of all creatures; and we have all seen among men those who manifest celestial and godlike qualities and also those who manifest bestial qualities. Man in his outward aspect constitutes one color of this rainbow we call creation, but in his inward aspect man is himself a rainbow of a thousand colors.
From a metaphysical point of view, the whole universe, i.e. the macrocosm, is seen as the locus of manifestation of all divine qualities; but this macrocosm in its entirety is reflected in man, the microcosm, who contains within himself all the divine qualities in their potential and undifferentiated form, that is, all the divine qualities can become manifested in and through man: Cosmos is the locus of manifestation of divine qualities in differentiated mode, while man is the locus of manifestation of divine qualities in undifferentiated mode.
This is true not only of the multitude, i.e. each individual manifesting a particular quality, but true also in one and the same individual. Perhaps we have all seen in ourselves the qualities of an ass and also passing glimpses of a saint, though in most of us, including myself more than anyone else, the temper tantrum of the ass has obscured if not entirely veiled the saintly qualities. Therefore, the human life and struggle can be viewed as the battle of the saint within with the ass within. In this sense, man, this strange creature situated in between heaven and hell is indeed a saintly ass: The saint within represents the ray of the Pure Intellect, while the ass within represents the ego whose erratic activity tends to diffract and disperse the light of the intellect.
Who is the saint and the sinner? The saint is the man or woman in whom the saint is riding and directing the ass, and the sinner is the man or woman in whom the ass is riding and bossing around the saint. The human struggle is to tame the ass within so that the saint within becomes manifest. Your ass has veiled the face of the saint within you.
Don’t be an ass; let there be only saint and sanctity.
At the heart of all authentic and orthodox spiritual traditions lies the concept of surrender, total surrender to God or the higher power. Self-surrender is not only indispensable to the spiritual path as a means of attaining to the highest goal of life, i.e. Self-realization, it is also one of the spiritual virtues that must be practiced, and so more strongly, even after attaining to the summit of spiritual ascent. However, perhaps no spiritual concept is more misunderstood and misused than the concept of self-surrender. These misconceptions are all rooted in our confusion of total surrender with passivity. As it will be shown the state of a man in self-surrender is not only far from passivity but constitutes the highest activity, not to be confused with external activity which is only one mode of action while the highest mode of action, or the highest activity, is contemplation or intellection which is the only action intrinsic to the Spirit, for the Spirit as the essence of all reality creates and projects by Intellection which is identical with Self-Contemplation. To become clear on this point it is necessary we understand what spiritual surrender means and what it implies in regard to human conduct.
From the traditional point of view, which we take to be the only true point of view, this phenomenon we call Man is a coming together of Spirit and matter, Purusha and Prakriti. However, matter in this sense is more general and not limited to the physical plane. From a metaphysical point of view, mind too is matter but in subtle form. In other words, everything that is other than the Spirit, i.e. pure consciousness, is designated by the name matter. Mind, psyche, and sentiment are matter in its subtle form while body is matter in its gross form.
Matter, subtle or gross, is inert; it has no consciousness or intelligence by itself; it has no will. Will emanates from the Pure Intellect, the Atman or the Spirit, or Purusha which is the active principle of all manifestation. It is the spirit that wills and acts; the mind and body are merely instruments by which the spirit acts, or projects, in the plane of manifestation. Thus, body and mind which are incapable of willing and acting can only be the locus of reactions: They constitute the reaction of Prakriti, the passive principle, to the action of Purusha, the active principle. Thus, as the mind and body are purely passive, the Spirit is said to be pure act. Reaction and passivity always belong together.
In self-surrender, as it is understood in the spiritual context, that which is surrendered is the mind-body complex of the person, and that to whom they are surrendered is the Active Principle of the being, i.e. the Spirit or God. Spirit, being the unmoved mover, acts but doesn’t react; matter reacts but doesn’t act. In self-surrender, by surrendering the mind-body complex to the Spirit we have not become passive at all; this is so because this material compound was no source of will or action to begin with; being purely passive the mind-body complex appears to act only as a result of the action of the Spirit. The mind-body complex without its active principle, i.e. Spirit, has the state of a corpse.
By surrendering the mind-body complex to the spirit, that is, by surrendering the passive element of the being to its active principle, we in fact face away from all passivity and turn toward pure activity. In a man who has totally surrendered himself to the Spirit, the active principle, the Spirit acts through him and he becomes transparent, non-reactive and non-resistant, to the action of the spirit; he becomes devoid of all passivity.
The self-surrendered man has become pure act: He acts but does not react. His conduct is not motivated, like most of us, by the reactions of his mind-body complex to external circumstances but is motivated by the objective demands of the situation at hand. He is surrendered insofar as he is not attached to his actions and acts only according to the need of the moment. Attachment to action is the anticipation of its fruits, a fall into reaction and passivity.
Therefore, to surrender oneself totally is to become totally free of all passivity and perform one’s duties in a detached spirit. It is only when we are detached from our actions and their consequences that we can avoid being reactive and hence passive. When we act without reacting our action becomes pure and objective because it is devoid of all self-interest.
To surrender is to be and to act objectively, and as we have seen self-surrender is by its very nature against all passivity, for it is the full cooperation and harmony of the being with its purely active principle, the Spirit.
I visit my blog less often than I used to. I open the post page to write something because after all the point of having a blog is to blog; but I stare at the empty page because I have got nothing to write. I feel I have a lot to say, or rather a lot to share about what I have learnt from others. But I don’t feel right to write because that would make me a hypocrite. You see, I cannot claim to know anything as long as that knowledge is not assimilated by me and put into practice, by which I mean conformity to what I believe to be true, and I am very weak in that department. I love spirituality, and above all spiritual metaphysics. But it is one thing to read and talk and write about it which does not make one spiritual but only a little prepared for spirituality; and it is another thing to assimilate what I read and use it as a support for my spiritual practice; and without spiritual practice, which is adherence to one or another orthodox religious/spiritual tradition, nothing is ever accomplished.
It is a well-known fact that spiritual life-and life is either spiritual or isn’t life at all-and the journey toward God consist of two fundamental aspects: Doctrine and method. Doctrine is that which directs us; it provides a sense of orientation by giving an outline of the goal, much like a map. Method is the spiritual practice that takes us to the goal, much like the vehicle or instrument that takes us to gates of Heaven. Now, reading and thinking of spiritual matters alone, though it may make us feel good or give us some peace, do not accomplish anything because it can become a sort of obsession with the doctrine at the cost of forgetting the journey itself. Doctrine itself is never the Truth Itself but a pale reflection of it that is meant to evoke in the seeker a forgotten memory of the lost paradise, i.e. the paradisaical state of being and consciousness; thus, doctrine too is no more than an instrument and a support for spiritual realization.
Truth Itself transcends all doctrinal formulations to the extent that we are allowed to say all doctrines are false relative to the Absolute Truth Itself; it is false relative to Truth because it cannot be identical with It, for Truth transcends all formulations and is ultimately inexpressible. But all doctrines insofar as they are traditional and orthodox, i.e. have their origin in a non-human influence which is none other than revelation, have a relative truth to them because they are reflections of That which lies above and in transcendence. However, this relative truth has no value in itself if it is divorced from its metaphysical function, and the metaphysical function of the doctrine is to invoke in the aspirant the longing for the Truth that is reflected in the doctrine, and also to keep the traveler on the right path without going astray. Therefore, we must look at doctrine not as a fancy collectible to be used for decoration but as a rope hanging from the sky. We must climb the rope and not swing with or by it.
The spiritual practice, on the other hand, is meant to purify the soul so that it can reflect the Truth expressed in the doctrine. The soul that is purified by its nature reflects the Truth, for the pure heart knows nothing but God. All other forms of knowledge, including empirical knowledge of ourselves and the world, is a dirt covering the spirit, and spiritual practice is the way to clean up this mirror as a result of which our soul-which is essentially identical with the Spirit in its state of purity-remembers and reflects its transcendent principle, God.
That you must hate your soul and put your soul to death is a very true statement because it is this soul as dirt over the spirit that ties us to the belief in our independent existence and separation from God. This nowadays fashionable cult of “love yourself” goes contrary to all traditional values, i.e. to Truth Itself. Instead, you must love your Self which is the Self of all things and is none other than God; but to succeed in loving the Self you must hate yourself and put your self to death, for this inferior self is no more than dirt and darkness. So, to hate yourself is to hate delusion and separation, darkness and forgetfulness, arrogance and ignorance.
When the soul becomes pure as a result of spiritual practice it reflects, by its nature, the Divine qualities which are spiritual virtues of humility, generosity, and objectivity. These virtues are not possessions of the sage but rather belong to God alone. But when the sage has become pure at heart and poor in spirit he has in fact returned to the primordial state in which he was created in the image of God. In that state the spiritual virtues shine by themselves, for it is God Himself along with His attributes that shine through the sage. The humility of the sage is the reflection of God’s transcendence and absolute detachment from the world. The generosity of the sage is the reflection of God’s immanence and infinitude, His unconditional giving through perpetual creation and constant renewal of all things. The objectivity of the sage is the reflection of God’s perfect knowledge and justice. It is not that the sage, the pure in heart and poor in spirit, becomes God or even acquires divine attributes; rather, God’s attributes shine in and through the sage because he is no more himself, and in fact he has become no-thing so that there is nothing in him and with him that can obstruct the Divine Light which is shining everywhere and at all times. The sage has become a channel of grace because he has become nothing, because he hated himself and put himself to death.
All this being said, which is by the way too much considering my present state of literary impotence, all I meant to say was that I feel I cannot say anything of spiritual life unless I am myself in it, and to be in it is to practice it. I try to do my best and pray to God to give me strength and faith so I can practice, that is, to constantly remember Him and conform to His nature. On my own, with this petty human self of mine, I have no faith, no knowledge, no love and no devotion. I am in a state of absolute spiritual poverty and all I can ask Him is to forgive my forgetfulness and minimize my distractions so that I can practice, practice, practice.
We run away from that which fills us toward that which drains us; we run away from God which is the source of consciousness and seek objects which consume our consciousness. All our pain and suffering comes from lack of consciousness, from losing ourselves to the objects of desire. Let go of these world objects and dive into God; everything you lose you will again in Him. Ask of God not what you want but what you need; pray Him to grant you more consciousness and He will give Himself to you.
Lose yourself to Him and you will become the universe.