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What is a Truly Universal Spirituality? | Kabir Helminski

Following is a highlight from a thought provoking article by Shaykh Kabir Helminski, a contemporary sufi guide of
Mevlevi path.

Is it possible for humanity, or even a portion of it, to embrace a truly universal spirituality? If so, what would a universal spirituality be based on? And would such a spirituality be able to offer a path to complete spiritual realization? The answers to these questions have become more urgent as the world becomes smaller through technologies of communication and transportation.

Most people who opt for the universal approach to spirituality really have in mind taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It is a particularly modern and Western (and especially American) notion that we can customize our spirituality in a "self-service" way. Historically, the significance of religion has more often been that it united human beings in a common purpose and destiny. In most traditional cultures, which placed so much emphasis on unity and continuity, the modern preoccupation with personalizing a religion or path would have seemed insane.

There is another kind of universality that proceeds from within a particular tradition when someone decides that they do not wish to be bound by forms and beliefs and so attempt a "formless" spirituality. In the few cases of this kind that I have observed, there is always the inescapable necessity of carrying the assumptions and perspective of the original tradition into the formless version. In the name of transcending forms, beliefs, and identifications, they seem to acquire many of the characteristics of a cult - especially a focus on a single charismatic figure without whom the whole enterprise would dissolve.

Yet another form of universality, and to my mind the most authentic form of it, is the result of committing oneself wholeheartedly to a particular tradition while honoring the good will and truth within other approaches. Eventually, if one goes far enough on one of the real paths to God - and these are usually paths that have been sanctioned by a lineage of enlightened beings -t hen one arrives at a truly universal perspective because one has used a particular tradition to transcend the egoism that needs identifications and exclusive beliefs. A striking example of this kind of spiritual attainment is Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, the great Sufi gnostic who said, "My heart has become receptive of every form. It is a meadow for gazelles, a monastery for monks, an abode for idols, the Ka`ba of the pilgrim, the tables of the Torah, the Qur'an. My religion is love - wherever its camels turn, Love is my belief, my faith."

Ibn 'Arabi was not, however, a practitioner of a universal faith, but one who wholly absorbed the way of Islamic Sufism and from whom issued an expression of that tradition which influenced subsequent generations until the present day. It is true that with his depth of apprehension he gave very original and, to some, shocking interpretations of the Qur'an. For him the way of Islam was revealed to be the very matrix of Truth in a unique sense, yet through it he became a universal human being.

To what extent is it desirable and possible to distill the spirituality from a religious tradition, receiving what is most pure and essential while leaving behind the dregs of cultural relativity and historical bias? In a sense this is a task that must be done by every generation: restoring the essential message, the living impulse, the spirit of a tradition.

Some would go further, proposing either that we break with the past completely, or that we, in a sense, create a new way based on former traditions. Rajneesh was an example of the former, claiming to represent a new beginning. Various gnostic, Rosicrucian, and even "Sufi" groups fit the second category--offering new rituals, symbols, and practices.

Having experienced some of these activities, the question I would ask is: Apart from the subjective apprehension of their aesthetic or intellectual qualities, do these practices have the signs and characteristics of being a gift from the unseen world, or the signs and characteristics of a man-invented ritual, symbol, or practice?

Most spiritual seekers in these times would assert their freedom from religious "dogmas," preferring, instead, an experiential spirituality. No spiritual practice, however, is entirely free of assumptions, premises, cosmology, metaphysics, and myth. By dogma, however, is probably meant those assertions of opinion based exclusively on some human authority - usually an authority claiming to speak for God himself.

The Qur'an is virtually free of dogma - and by dogma, here, I mean the assertion of belief or opinion without evidence. In the category of dogma I would place those ideas which either:

1. Define or particularize Absolute Reality with concepts, or

2. Ascribe an exclusive agency of salvation to one religion (the notion that God "has a religion and it is. . . ," as is encountered in most fundamentalisms), or

3. Claim a unique and unverifiable Divine power for a particular individual.

The Qur'an is not unique in its relative freedom from dogma. The words of Jesus in the Gospels are likewise free from dogma and theology - although this has not hindered the formation of dogmas and theologies based upon these words.

Once one has accepted that there is a Reality that is apparent neither to the senses nor to the intellect alone, but can be apprehended by another knowing faculty within the human being, and that this Reality might be able to communicate with humanity by offering the same message to various messengers, then one can take a critical look at the Qur'an, the circumstances of its revelation, and Muhammad and decide for oneself whether this offers a truthful and helpful description of the human situation. One may find that it even helps to sort out the essential truths from the relative accretions in other traditions. In other words, it may point us to the universal spirituality itself.

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A sage came upon a field which was filled with many holes. There was a man seen in the field who was still digging more holes. The sage asked what is it that the man was doing? The man replied that he was trying to reach watertable underground.

The sage said, "If you wish to reach the source of water, then instead of digging many shallow holes - dig a single hole deep enough so that it will reach you to the watertable underground."

This small sufi story is a hint to many who seek a genuine spiritual path. The question is, are we sincere enough to pursue and hold fast the path that shall take us to the Source or are we engaged in vain digging many shallow holes, trying this, trying that?

Holy Prophet said, "there are as many paths to reach God as the number of human breath." Indeed there are many paths that take one to divine realization. There are many boats that can take one to the other shore of eternity, but some of the boats are so old, so ancient that structure of some boats are already falling apart, some have holes underneath and the journey to God is never an easy one. One risks no less than one's soul and this precious human existence.

So stand straight, and follow not the way of those who know not. (Quran 10:89) And most of them follow not but surmise. Verily surmise is of no avail against the truth. Verily God is well aware of what they do. (10:36).

# Further:
. Essays from The Knowing Heart
. Articles via
. The Paradox of “Universal Sufism” by Pir Zia Inayat Khan


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Technology of the Heart: What is a Truly Universal Spirituality? | Kabir Helminski
What is a Truly Universal Spirituality? | Kabir Helminski
Technology of the Heart
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