The Cloak of Religious Zeal

Many a times I thought how can one explain to the critics of religion that what lies at the heart of religion, the inward truth of which religion is only an outward expression, has nothing to do with the heinous acts done under a cloak of religious zeal, that such acts are of men oblivious to the principle and not of the principle itself. Never I found a response better than one offered by William Law:

“Would you know whence it is that so many false spirits have appeared in the world, who have deceived themselves and others with false fire and false light, laying claim to information, illumination, and openings of the divine Life, particularly to do wonders under extraordinary calls from God? It is this: They have turned to God without turning from themselves; would be alive to God before they are dead to their own nature. Now religion in the hands of self, or corrupt nature, serves only to discover vices of a worse kind than in nature left to itself. Hence are all the disorderly passions of religious men, which burn in a worse flame than passions only employed about worldly matters; pride, self-exaltation, hatred and persecution, under a cloak of religious zeal, will sanctify actions which nature, left to itself, would be ashamed to own.”

William Law 

World Is A Face

World, we think of it as a collection of objects; but there is a special angle, concealed to most, from which one sees that the world is really a face. In other words, when we see the world we are in fact not seeing. Human perception is a case of epidemic blindness when it comes to higher truths. But as a blind person can feel the world that he cannot see, we too feel that face; we know it as music, as art, as mathematics, and as the sense of the sacred, as that which uplifts us from our immanence in the world in moments of ecstasy and transcendence.

To see the world is to not see the Face.

But this Face is peculiar. It is a face that removes all fears and doubts, though it shoots in our hearts a fear of a new kind, a fear of an infinite totality in the face of whom we lose our tongues. How can one even begin to express this face when all expression is nothing but the expressions of the face itself!

Deluded by our commonsense and shallow convictions we have come to accept without a doubt that world is an expanse, that it has depths and dimensions, befores and afters. But world is really like a flat sheet of paper; it is expansive if we look at in its flatness; but rotate it and you see that it is nothing but the thinnest of all expanses. The Face too is right in our face; we can’t see it because we are facing its edge, and hence we think we see the world. But find that sacred angle: The world disappears and the Face appears. Then you will know that it is all the Face and nothing else. Thus, one who sees the Face must die.

Let There Be God

Of all our human traits and capacities none is closer to and more worthy of God than our silence, for any act or utterance takes away from the inexpressible splendor of truth.

The essence of spiritual life is about becoming so little and quiet that nothing but truth remains to be seen or heard. Thus, spiritual living is more like sculpting in which man must take away from his gross form rather than add to it until the intrinsic beauty of the latent form shines forth of its own accord. Each one of us is such marble stone that should be lessened and refined by ourselves until our divine form is unconcealed.

Our way toward the essence, toward the Divine Ground, is a way of detachment par excellence. Everything that adds to our mind and tongue subtracts from our soul and heart. The way toward the essence is not through the attribute.

Nothing makes us closer to God than our silence and solitude.

The Last Veil

Between man and truth lie only his own ideas and expectations of truth.

One who is obsessed with endless talks and descriptions of truth, the truth which is by nature inexpressible, only adds more veils to the path toward truth. Language which works by way of concepts and conceptualizations is precisely that which lies in between us and truth.

Truth is a matter of direct experience rather than excessive reading and reasoning. Reading and reasoning which is a possibility of human mind and language and which makes sense only against the background of conditioned knowledge can only produce a personal and biased version of truth. Nothing is father away from truth than the talk or truth, for to talk truth is not to experience it, and to reason about truth is to delay a direct perception of it. Reason is by nature discursive and indirect while truth is gasped only in an intuitive and direct manner and not in any other way. This is of crucial importance particularly for those who are used to chasing truth and spiritual experience in the lives and words of others, be it spiritual and intellectual giants or not. Listening and reading is of help no doubt; but it must have a negative role in that one should realize at the end that “even that was not it.”

Although all formulations of truth have a relative import in the plane of human existence, namely all of them being attempts at expressing one and the same inexpressible truth, however all such formulations are pure and simple false in the face of the Absolute itself. Truth is not something to be thought or imagined or arrived at by sheer reasoning. Truth is only to be seen directly with one’s own eyes, eyes that will be opened only at the moment of confrontation with the truth. Thus, everything thought or imagined  or reasoned about truth cannot be it and must be discarded sooner or later; it cannot have any resemblance to truth whatsoever, for thought, imagination, and reason are operative within the sphere of human possibilities, while truth dwells exclusively and in principle outside this sphere. In other words, one can see the truth if and only if one has already outgrown one’s human form and content, and hence has witnessed the extinction of one’s ego which is much more intense and destructive experience than anything comprehensible in human terms. Anyone who has not felt the pain of total extinction and annihilation has not yet known or experienced it. After all, that which ultimately faces the truth and sees it directly is no more a human person but the truth itself, for only infinity can contain infinity; only God can know God. The human receptacle which is by nature mundane and finite is not a vessel that can contain the infinite and the absolute truth; this human phenomenon is not a vessel at all no matter supreme its intelligence or spiritual powers, for its very existence is the hardest veil and the most difficult one to pierce.

Human being is in principle the very veil that conceals the Absolute. Our humanity is the first and the last and the only veil to be torn apart before a direct vision of truth is made possible. Thus, no amount of human effort, whether spiritual or intellectual, can bring about a direct perception of truth, for anything pertaining to human sphere is by nature a veiling force with veiling influences. It is with this understanding that total renunciation is prescribed as the direct path to the heart of truth. Even those who choose different paths must at end come to the total renunciation in order to face the beloved. But true and effective renunciation, whether partial or total, is not about facing away from the material world and despising what is worldly. In the face of the truth the spiritual is as mundane and veiling as the worldly and the material. After all, religion and spirituality like wealth or anything else are possibilities within the world and not outside it, and hence they are as worldly as anything else in this world. A wealthy materialist who creates jobs for a hundred humans in this world or puts a smile on a family in need in this life is much more spiritual and Godly than a corrupt Pope or guru living off people’s donations while praying and lying in their face and molesting their children behind their backs with a promise of better lives in another world. The distinction between the spiritual and the material is only a human creation for the benefit of the religious elitists. The total renunciation that takes us to the feet of the beloved has nothing to do with the world and its objects, for as we emphasized above what keeps us away from the truth is not anything but ourselves, our very humanity, our own ideas and expectations of truth and God, the crooked veil that we are.

Total renunciation is not a leaving of the world but a leaving of one’s own ideas and expectations of the world which includes a leaving of our own ideas of God and truth; of course this cannot be done by the fainthearted or one who is emotionally or intellectually invested in religion and spirituality. The face of the truth is for a few to see, for most men and women prefer what they like rather than what is. As simply put by Jack Nicholson: Not everyone “can handle the truth.”

Total renunciation which is perfect objectivity is the highest ideal of mankind and the only means by which he/she can attain to truth as it is in itself. In other words, one attains to a direct perception of truth precisely when one has let go of all ideas of truth, of all that one knows or has heard of it, of the search for truth, for to seek truth in any way is at once to miss it. This is the known peculiarity of truth which is hinted at by mystics many times: To seek it is at once to miss it.

One who longs for truth but doesn’t know anything scriptural or intellectual about it is closer to it than the chatterbox of truth. This peculiarity is exactly what makes direct perception of truth a difficult task; it is difficult and almost impossible precisely because it is so unbelievably easy and straightforward to see it. Truth is so close to us that we always miss it. To seek the truth is like trying to bite our own teeth. To seek is to go, but truth is always where we are standing, for only truth can seek the truth; only truth can seek itself!

The situation of people seeking the truth by going outside themselves and looking in the lives and words of others is like the ironic situation of people who are running all over a globe looking for its poles, little knowing that every point on a globe is a pole; everyone is standing on a pole.

It is a well known fact by all mystics that the realization of truth, which is a matter of direct perception, comes precisely at the moment where they realize that the seeker, the sought, and the way are one and the same and have always been so all along. Bayazid Bastami, a renowned Muslim mystic living in the 9th century perfectly captures the situation in the following words:

“The truth of which we speak can never be found by seeking, yet it is found only by those who seek it.”

The inner meaning of this saying is that the goal of spiritual life is not something to be found in a place, be it in thought or imagination or mind or in someone’s words or in reasoning. Truth is nowhere to be found, for it was never lost to begin with. There is nothing but truth; there is no seeker, no path, no world and no beings; truth is all that there is and it is forever inexpressible.

One cannot find truth; one can only become it, and this is possible only because one was never anything but the truth. Again, one cannot find the truth; one can only see that one is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The human state is the self-forgetfulness of the truth. One cannot find the truth; one can only remember it, and this remembrance is not a human kind of remembrance; it is a seeing of a new kind, a seeing that is at once a remembering with the highest degree of certainty and self-evidence: Truth is the transcendental seeing of the nothingness of man and world. That is why nothing of the world, whether its reasoning or chanting or imagining, can bring us any closer to the truth; any movement in this mundane world, whether of body or mind, is a movement away from the truth which is transcendental and inaccessible by all human ways and means. As Rumi says, to see the truth, the beloved, in this life you must “die before you die.” This death before the physical death is the same as the total renunciation.

Despite the all-pervading and transcendental nature of truth, and though it is not found by seeking it, only one who longs for it can see it at the end. Thus, the true seeking in the spiritual path is not seeking in the literal sense of the word, for truth is neither outside us nor inside us. The true seeking is in fact a longing for a direct perception of truth. It is this intense longing that brings about such direct experience.

Thus, longing for truth in silence and solitude is the true path instead of outwardly searching for it, worst of all reading and thinking too much about it in terms of the opinions of others, for what you read is someone else’s experience; it is their interpretation; it is what they see and not what you must see. The only exception is what one learns from a guru who has realized the truth for him/herself and has had disciples and many years of experience teaching the way to serious aspirants within the framework of a revealed tradition. Such rare teachers are devoid of egotistic motivations and refrain from too much talk and lecture about the nature of truth, for they can impart knowledge by a glance or a gesture. They too know that the real guru, the true guide, is the inner Self of man: You will eventually see what is right in front of you precisely when you let go of seeing the world through the eyes and ears of others, precisely when you realize you need nothing outside yourself to see or know the truth directly. Even if we get inspirations from the outside world, we must always return to ourselves where the ultimate confrontation will take place. Everything others say about the truth becomes a veil if we fail to realize that “even that was not it.”

Metaphysics: The Supreme Science

Supreme science is the science of the first and the highest principles. It is known as metaphysics in the strictest sense of the word and not metaphysics as wrongly associated with the supernatural. The principal subject of metaphysics, according to Aristotle, is Being qua Being, Being as such. Thus, metaphysics is an a priori science, its form and content being independent of the empirical facts of the world. Logic and pure mathematics are examples of a priori sciences; the truth or falsity of mathematical propositions is determined with reference to the logical structure of the proposition and not with reference to the facts of the empirical world. Metaphysical truths, too, enjoy the same status, hence the title supreme science: Metaphysical truths, if found, are eternal and unshakable. Therefore, metaphysics is concerned not with actuality but with possibility, with what is logically possible and what is logically impossible. If natural sciences are concerned with contingent facts of the empirical world, metaphysics is concerned with the necessary truths of the world as such. In other words, metaphysics seeks to expose that which cannot not be.

Natural sciences cannot in any shape or form answer or eliminate metaphysical questions. This lack of access to metaphysics from the plane of the empirical world is neither due to the inadequacy of natural science nor due to the impossibility of metaphysics. Physics can neither answer nor discredit metaphysical concerns no more than it can answer or discredit pure mathematical puzzles: The two sciences, physics and metaphysics, operate in utterly distinct spheres of knowledge. Consider the example of human organs of perception: Each organ has access to a particular class of phenomena that is special only to that organ; the hand touches what is touchable; the ear hears what is audible, etc. A hand cannot touch a sound no more than the eye can see a sound or touch a wall; but this lack of access for an organ to the phenomena of another organ is not a defect of any organ; it is only a case of harmonious specialization.

Learning from the beauty both in form and function of the human body we must refrain from giving superiority and exclusive rights to only one species of knowledge and its respective agencies, that is, to empirical facts and natural sciences. Humans have physical as well as metaphysical needs. It is not up to a special class of disciplines, namely physical sciences, to claim superiority over others and pronounce their own truths to be superior to other truths such as religious truth, spiritual truth, and metaphysical truth. This bullying behavior which is rooted in the western idea of “divide and conquer,” and which is also the quintessence of all modern sciences and their overemphasis on quantity rather than quality, is ironically the guiding model of the west in its world politics, the curious division of the world into the first, second, and third world countries, the first always being the criterion for the common good of all. But let us stop our digression here since the point has been made with regard to the roots of the unquestionable reign of modern science and its fascist and totalitarian role as the sole determinant of the human place in cosmos.

Physical aspect is only one dimension of human constitution; natural sciences which are specialized in modelling nature based on a merely quantitative grasp of phenomena have a practical utility meant to address the needs of the physical dimension. The spiritual dimension of man which concerns not just comfort but also happiness and peace of mind and heart cannot be fulfilled by ignoring the spiritual and spoiling the physical needs, and hence overworking the physical dimension. It is for this reason that the modern man is the flattest of all; he is utterly one dimensional.

It is precisely the spiritual dimension as the creative aspect of life that attracts art, religion, and philosophy. If physics is the science that formulates in precise details the physical dimension of man and existence, metaphysics is the science that formulates in precise details the spiritual dimension of man and world. The contingent physical facts of physics can only be complements to necessary metaphysical truths and not their replacements. Physics and other natural sciences can never resolve the human existential questions, for these questions are in principle metaphysical questions in need of metaphysical answers. The following analogy should clarify how the two sciences, physics and metaphysics, and their respective fields of inquiry are incompatible, though they may complement one another within the framework of an all-encompassing science yet to come:

Consider a computer game that is created to simulate human life. In the game there are people, cities, countries, science, religion, etc. If you choose your avatar to be a physicist you can cooperate with other physicists and try to discover the laws of nature as it is given in the game; and the game is programmed so that it is possible to explore the discover exact laws of physics that govern the motions of objects in the game, not necessarily the same as the laws of physics in reality.

Now, see that there are two distinct classes of laws, or facts or truths, that exist with regard to this game: On the one hand, there are the laws the govern the events that happen inside the game, the laws that can be discovered by the player who explores and studies these events using his/her avatar; on the other hand, there are laws that govern the game itself, namely the programming code that makes the game possible in the first place. I want you to think about these two classes of laws from the point of view of an avatar in the game, remembering that this is an analogy with rough edges: The avatar sees only the world inside the game; it experiences events inside that world governed by the laws of nature inside the game. Naturally the avatar has no consciousness of the game-nature of his/her world (remember the limits of analogy.) It can only know about the first class of laws if he/she decides the explore and find them. But the physical laws governing the world inside the game are themselves made possible by a program code; they are governed by another class of laws that are of an entirely different nature: They are programming codes; they do not refer to things such as mass or energy or motion but concern only logic and syntax. Although the existence of the natural laws inside the game depends on the game code, it is impossible to infer or deduce the game code by studying or analyzing the laws that exist only inside the game. The physical laws apply only to what happens inside the game while the game code applies to the game itself. The game code exists in a higher and more abstract level than the laws inside the game.

If it happens that the avatar in the game somehow suspects that he might be inside a game and decides that he wants to know the codes that are behind the game (assuming this possibility exists within the code), he must choose a method totally different from the methods used inside the game for discovering the natural laws of the game world. He/she will no more have to experiment on objects as regards their motion because unlike the local laws of nature the code game is global and has a logical rather than empirical origin. The avatar should no more be concerned with what happens inside the game, with what is actual; instead he/she should be concerned with the most general structures governing his/her experience of the game, for his/her own very existence in a way suggests the whole code; the avatar is subject to the game code before he/she is subject to the physical laws of the world inside the game. In other words, the physical laws concern the actualities inside the game while the programming code concerns the possibility of the game itself.

From the standpoint of the player who moves the avatar the world inside the game though it appears to the avatar to be endless and infinitely exploitable, it is in fact a small screen with nothing beyond it; the game is precisely made such that the avatar appears to be moving in a vast world of endless possibilities.

Similar to the way that laws inside the game are related to the game code, laws of natural sciences are related to metaphysical truths. I am not at all implying that our reality is a game running on some computer code and advice against all such Matrixy conjectures. The point is to see how physics and metaphysics are, or are not, related to one another, and that how it is impossible to construct the metaphysical, if any, from the physical; the two classes of laws, physical and metaphysical, operate in different planes of existence. As it was the physical laws that were consequences of the game code, it is also the laws of nature that must follow from metaphysical truths and not the other way around.

Even assuming the extremely successful, yet improbable, scenario in which physics has solved all the problems of cosmos and its origin and teleology, it is always possible and even mandatory to pose the question “But what was before that and how did this come about?” If the naive physicist claims that the cosmos, which is by the way only a theoretical construct, can spring into existence without a cause and then proves that his claim is a logical consequence of the verified laws of physics, then he has resolved the problem of the origin of cosmos by creating another problem concerning the origin of the laws of physics: If according to the laws of physics the universe can jump into existence without a cause, then these laws must preexist the universe in order to make this immaculate conception possible; if the laws preexist the inception of universe, then how did the laws themselves come to exist? If the laws do not preexist the universe, then they cannot be applied to the moment of inception, hence refuting the physicist’s proof that the laws remove the need for a cause in the beginning! To avoid more headache I stop here and suggest you use your imagination to see that no matter how successful physics may be it can never address certain kinds of questions and it can never access certain kinds of truths.

It is here that metaphysics must be revived and utilized with unprecedented seriousness, for man is now more than ever in need of a qualitative grasp of his essence and existence in the face of the Absolute and the Infinite. The revival of metaphysics must be done in such as grand and glorious scale that it can first eliminate the adverse effects of the quantitative reign of modern science, and then silence the epidemic irrationalism and intellectual perversion of our age whose ugly symptoms are existentialism, atheism, and the consequent irresponsible spirituality with its fake gurus and shallow disciples.

Much like the case of the game, the metaphysician need not concern him/herself with petty details of cosmic phenomena and its differential equations; instead he must have mastery over logic and equipped with a penetrating intellectual intuition that can grasp the perennial truths accessible through gnosis: Metaphysical truths dwell in the heart and are accessed by means of pure intellect which is the divine spark in man. It is in and through metaphysics that we can realize the unity of macrocosm and microcosm and see that one is the image of the other.

The ultimate goal of metaphysics is to establish in a systematic way what is known as The Supreme Identity which states that man is essentially divine:

Ultimate Reality is non-dual, indivisible, and invisible. It is one without a second. It is the Absolute and the Infinite. It is beyond being and non-being. The true Self of man which is the Self of all beings is of the nature of Ultimate Reality and one with it. This Supreme Reality which is directly perceived and known in transcendental experience is of the nature of existence, consciousness, and bliss. In Hinduism Supreme Reality is known as Brahman and is characterized by the Sanskrit compound Satchidananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). The true Self of man which is essentially the same as Brahman is called Atman. It is important to note that Satchidananda or existence, consciousness, and bliss are not attributes of the supreme reality: Supreme Reality is existence itself; it is consciousness itself; it is bliss itself.

The metaphysical doctrine behind all religions and accepted by their esoteric exponents in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Platonism, etc. is best formulated in Advaita Vedanta which is a nondual system of metaphysics. It is as follows:

Brahman is Real

World is illusory

Atman is Brahman 

You Are Pure and Infinite

Man is like a galaxy; at the center there is the black-hole, the divine center, whose infinitude keeps the whole constitution together and functioning. There is also the rotational motion producing a centrifugal force that constantly throws the galaxy out of itself. Rotation of the galaxy is the sign of its life; it is the cause of its separation from the central source,  for what throws a center out of itself is its rotation. Thus, rotation symbolizes The Fall. In the absence of rotation the galaxy collapses onto itself, into its central black-hole. However, it is the destiny of a galaxy to collapse onto its own center, to return to the origin.

It is not that human has undergone The Fall; the human state is The Fall. Life is the separation; the purpose of life should be the realization that separation is a separation in name and form only, that it is illusory; we are essentially never separated from that which constitutes our essence; we are not human in essence; we are essence in human.

When water is boiling droplets are formed jumping up and down at the surface. Human life is like the life of these droplets that are momentarily separated from the source but are always on their way back to the source: They arise from the source and go back to the source. When the droplet falls back into the water it is no more a droplet; there are no droplets in the water; there is only water, an indivisible whole. The cause of the existence of droplets is the boiling which signifies the divine ecstasy necessitated by divine infinitude. It is the task of man to realize that though he experiences itself as an isolated droplet but his essence is water: The droplet is water but water is not the droplet. Droplet is water constrained in space and time; it is its name and form that separates the droplet from the water. Thus, separation is always only in name and form; its essence always remains water. The goal of spiritual life is to transcend the names and forms and to realize the essence. This realization is the necessary and sufficient condition for universal peace.

Realize your essence, whether by love and devotion or by sheer force of the intellect. Reflect on the fact that why we feel good when we love but feel uneasy when we hate! Isn’t it because what we love and what we hate is essentially a part of ourselves, the universal Self?! Love is always love of the Self; hatred is always hatred toward the Self. And above all, knowledge is always Self-knowledge.

Ignorance is the root of all evil. Ignorance is not lack of literacy as knowledge is not the insatiable accumulation of mere information. There is more evil among today’s educated men than among yesterday’s peasants. A knowledge that leads to arrogance and a sense of superiority and entitlement is not true knowledge, for outward arrogance always reflects the inward ignorance. True knowledge is the knowledge of the Supreme Identity, that we are essentially united in our divine essence. Ignorance is not knowing that we are all one and the same.

When it comes to man whose essence is divine there is no gift better than true knowledge, for human knowledge, insofar as it is knowledge of absolute truth and not contingent fact, can unite all that there is. But at the same time there is nothing more dangerous than human ignorance, and this too is because of man’s divine essence, for man’s ignorance is in a sense god’s ignorance; nothing is more dangerous than an ignorant god since it has the totality under its spell. Imagine how destructive can a drunken god be?! Thus, if man’s knowledge can unite all that there is, man’s ignorance can destroy all that there is, and both in virtue of his divine essence. Realize that you are God in human disguise and throw away the petty desires and attachments; you are pure and infinite; nothing and no one can hurt you because there is nothing but you: You are all that there is.

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Parable & Symbol: The Vessels of Truth

Revelation which is by definition the echo of the Absolute and the infinite truth in the valley of the relative and finite existence is a revelation in names and forms. However, truth as transcendental content which is absolute and infinite is always beyond all names and forms. Insofar as it is absolute it is beyond all names, for name belongs in language which is marked with relativity. Insofar as it is infinite it is beyond all forms, for form belongs in space which is marked with finitude. Thus, names and forms, essentially incapable of fully containing the divine principle, can only convey it in an indirect and suggestive fashion. Therefore, language can reflect the principle only through parables, and form can reflect it only through symbols.

The frequent use of parables and symbols in all revealed traditions is not due to ambiguity on the part of truth but due to the relative and finite nature of the receiver. The best example that can clarify the sense of this relationship between man and truth is the relation between color and a blind man. If we are to convey to a blind what color is we can never do so by way of logical demonstration; the existence of color cannot be proven to a blind, for he can’t even grasp the premises of such proofs as he does not even know what it is like to see. Color exists only in seeing; and where there is a man for whom seeing doesn’t exist to begin with, the existence of color cannot be proven at all. It is a matter of fact that the blind can grasp color only after he has eyes to see. This is an instance in which lack of proof for the existence of something doesn’t entail the lack of existence but rather the lack of the proper faculty with which the apprehension of the object is made possible.

The only way for a seer of color to help a blind gain an understanding of color, however indirect, is to give him the suggestion that “color to seeing is like the feeling of texture to touching.” Since the blind has no access to the reality of sight he can grasp an object of sight only by way of analogy to objects of touch or other faculties accessible to him. This of course works only if the blind is interested in knowing color and what it’s like to see.

Now it would be very odd and even impossible to find certain blinds who are obsessed with seeing and knowing colors, for a person can not be obsessed with something never known to him, whether in idea or as object itself. It doesn’t make sense for a blind to be obsessed with seeing color while he doesn’t even know what it’s like to see. Thus, if we find such blinds we must conclude that they somehow have a knowledge of color and what it’s like to see, namely they have seen color before. I don’t know any such blinds, but I know of many who want to see the truth! In this case we can’t help but conclude that man somehow is already in possession of the knowledge of truth, or else its idea would never arise to begin with. If there are men and women who leave everything behind to know the truth we can’t help but conclude that man’s struggle to see is indeed a struggle to remember.

If we are after the truth we must already know what it’s like to know the truth, and hence our seeing of truth is in essence a remembering of truth.