Monday, May 30, 2011

In Islam, there is no altar - We are the altar. There are no images of Divinity - We are the divine image

Members of the Noetic Science Association of New York City were studying meditation in various contexts and requested Sheikh Nur, may Allah be pleased with him, the author and thinker Lex Hixon, to speak about what they called "Sufi meditation." On a weekday night, several of their members visited the beautiful third-floor music room of the Masjid al-Farah in southern Manhattan, where Sheikh Nur al-Jerrahi guided the Pir Nureddin al-Jerrahi dervish community for fifteen years. A spontaneous meeting of minds occurred, and this unusual discourse, taped on audio and later carefully edited and clarified by Sheikh Nur, was the result. Both dervishes and visitors were moved by the range, depth, and tenderness of these words as richly presenting Islamic Sufism and by the atmosphere of light that surrounded them on that special evening.

I am sharing a portion of this conversation here: 



Sheikh Nur: The preliminary for meditation is this: to establish a beautiful atmosphere. In Islam, there is no altar. We are the altar. There are no images of Divinity. We are the divine image. Human beings were created in the divine image. So now we are offering tea to this perfect image. We are seeing each other in a perfect light.

Visitor: Noetic Sciences was founded by the astronaut Edgar Mitchell. On the way back from his trip into space, he had a realization that the universe is loving and intelligent and purposeful. His background gave him no preparation for this experience. Apparently, a number of the astronauts have had more or less similar experiences, but he decided to found an organization that would study the interface between science and spirituality. His background was scientific, and he wanted to see if there was some way that one could understand the connection between science and spirituality.

Sheikh Nur: We will adopt that analogy. We are in an astronautical capsule right now. The universe is opening up above us, around us. All mystics of the great traditions have been astronauts into spiritual space and into physical space, because mystics walk through planetary experience, too, and perceive the Divine. They do not have to go to outer space or to inner space. They find sacred space everywhere. We are engaged in the countdown now. Instead of getting rocket engines prepared, we have to prepare the right kind of sweets, the right kind of tea, the right kind of fragrance, the right kind of friendship, the right kind of respect. All this is part of preparing for our lift-off.

I’m so glad to know the background of your Noetic Society. It’s a large organization - tens of thousands of members, isn’t it?

Visitor: When I last heard, it was about forty thousand in various parts of the world.

Sheikh Nur: That’s quite a mystic order, forty thousand. Founded by a very modern person who had a profound spiritual experience. The founder of our order lived about three hundred years ago in Istanbul. He had extraordinary experiences, made possible by the spaceships that were available then.

Visitor: Can you tell us about what happened to him?

Sheikh Nur: Yes. He finished his extensive education in sacred law when he was about nineteen. He was already married. He had been appointed from Istanbul, which was the capital of the Ottoman Empire at that time, to go to Egypt and function as a Grand Mufti there, to give consultations on sacred law. The night before he was to leave, with everything packed and his passage on the ship secured, his uncle took him to a place like this, where you are tonight. The dervishes began chanting and whirling. Young Nureddin entered ecstasy. He took off his jacket and threw it in the center of the circle, which means he renounced his independent career and placed himself under the guidance of the sheikh. Everything was unpacked. His wife went to stay with her family, and he spent three years in intensive retreat.

When he was twenty-six, he had completed his total spiritual training, and his sheikh received the inspiration from Allah that Nureddin Jerrahi should start a new branch of the order. The young man, flanked by two supremely mature dervishes in their eighties, strolled a few miles from the tekke, the dervish lodge, into the center of Istanbul to found a new tekke. They had no money. They had nothing. The night before, the Sultan and also one vizier both had dreams that a young man flanked by two old sages would be coming into the city and would be founding a new mystic order, and that the state should open its coffers in order to give them funds. So the vizier went and easily found this configuration, one young man and two old men. They were just joyfully strolling. With the money that was provided they bought a beautiful old wooden house.

Lex Hixon with Sheikh Muzaffer Ashki
Sheikh Muzaffer Ashki, the nineteenth successor of Nureddin Jerrahi, arrived in New York in 1978. He similarly came with no particular money and no particular plan of how to establish a new tekke. He met the beautiful, radiant young couple who are sitting on either side of me right now. They are not as young as they were in 1978 but still as beautiful. They provided the means by which my Sheikh Muzaffer could establish the Jerrahi Order in New York City. That is the way it happens - spontaneously, by Divine Will.

This spontaneous unfolding is the secret, the art of meditation and of life. It is very personal. In the oral tradition of Islam, the Day of Judgment is described as the personal meeting of every soul with its Lord. It is not done with vast numbers of humanity stretching out beyond the horizons, and Divine Reality, as it were, sitting on a throne, judging. It is an individual, one-to-one, one-within-one experience.

Visitor: Does it happen at a particular time?

Sheikh Nur: It happens three times. The first time the Day of Judgment happens is every moment. The second time it happens is at one’s physical death. The third time is at the culmination of history, when Being Itself will return into the glorious Source of Being. Those are three very real Days of Judgment.

I might add, a fourth time when it occurs is every Friday at the Friday prayers of Islam, which are called Juma, the gathering. That day, there is a reflection on earth of the cosmic Day of Judgment. A fifth time it happens is when the pilgrims on the pilgrimage to Mecca gather on the plain of Arafat. That is also a reflection in space and time of the cosmic Day of Judgment. The first three instances are metaphysical, and the other two are historical, earthly reflections.

The amazing thing about the Day of Judgment is that there is nothing but infinite Divine Mercy manifest on that day. There is no judgment as we understand it from any limited human standpoint. Allah says of Himself in the oral tradition, transmitted by His beloved Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, “My Mercy extends completely beyond My Justice.” The Divine Quality of Justice is one of the facets of Supreme Reality, but the Divine Mercy extends infinitely beyond that. It is the essence of Supreme Reality. So the Day of Judgment is the day of infinite Mercy. In that Mercy, there can occur what we would consider chastening. There can be what we consider suffering, because people have to face themselves and be purified by the spiritual fire of Truth. Not physical fire. This Day of infinite Mercy is terrible in the sense that it can cause terror to the soul because it is such overwhelming mercy.

In the Holy Quran, there is an interesting description of a particular soul who, when first awakening into the Resurrection, cries, “O Allah, please do not return me into my limited body.” Our physical body, although it is an amazing body with tremendous spiritual reach, is limited. The soul is a limitless reality. This limitless reality cries, “Do not place me back inside limitation again.” Allah replies in this Quranic passage, “Look at your body.” The soul looks and sees that its body of resurrection is a body composed of light and love. In fact, it is a limitless body. Then the true mystery of the Resurrection begins to dawn on the soul, and the soul enters an ecstatic state of praise.

On the Day of Judgment that is appearing at every second we can also have this experience. We can experience our spiritual bodies. These spiritual bodies can appreciate fragrances and beautiful sights and tender touch. In Holy Quran, Allah says that the ones who pray sincerely and deeply will feel Divine Presence touching them through every pore of their skin—not just as a metaphysical presence, but as a direct touch.

Science fiction often depicts planet earth as some kind of prison planet. “If we were more evolved, we wouldn’t be here.” I have heard many New Age people say that. But that is not the Islamic view. This planet is at the very apex of spiritual possibility. The proof of this is that the beloved prophets have manifested here. The prophets are perfect, full human beings. Most prophets have rejoiced in marriage and in family, in food and drink. Most prophets have engaged in deep study and in sacred battle. The complete range of fruitful human experience and responsibility has been engaged in by these perfect human beings to show that there is nothing intrinsically limited here in our earthly life. We create limitations by our egocentric thinking, by our misapprehension. In the Day of Judgment that is happening at every moment, right here and now, we can know this limitless nature of our soul’s experience. We can know the Resurrection.

This merciful Divine Judgment is happening right now within all of us. Look down at your body. It is composed of light. It is composed of love. It is not composed of what we theoretically and conventionally call matter. This experience is only for persons who can see metaphysically during earthly life. At the moment of our physical death, however, there is no avoiding this experience. Quran confirms this. We can avoid looking at our spiritual situation all our lives, but when the body is carried to the grave, then the soul has no recourse but to look at the situation fully. We do not have to wait for thousands or millions of years until the Day of Judgment at the End of Time. Definitely, at the moment of death, we will enter fully into that Day Without Evening.

I do not know what physical theory prevails right now, but according to some theories of the universe, there is an original expansion and then the universe contracts back into a single point. Metaphysically, this is the Quranic or the prophetic view. Creation is not just an endless dissipation into space. Creation has an actual rhythm to it. It reaches a certain point and then returns into its Source.

The Big Bang theory does not say anything about the Source. The Source is not something that can be investigated scientifically, so how can scientists talk about the Source? As human beings, however, we can and must talk about the Source. Creation returning into its Source is not a disappearing, a cancellation. It is the ultimate fulfillment of creation. So at that time, too, there will be a Day of Judgment - very grand, inconceivably magnificent.

The mystics are not confined by time, so they can experience that final return of Being into its Source here and now. They can experience their physical death before they die. Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, often instructed his close companions, “Die before you die.” This was originally a usage of the desert fathers of Christianity. The original form of the statement was, “Die before you die, and resurrect before the Resurrection.” Can you imagine the ancient desert fathers saying that to each other? It is so beautiful. Instead of saying, “hello,” one greets, “Die before you die,” and the other responds, “Resurrect before the resurrection.” Resurrect before the resurrection means that the mystic must experience within himself or herself that final Resurrection, even on the vast scale that it occurs at the end of history, including all living beings throughout space and time.

Calling Itself Allah, the Supreme Source is the One Light illuminating every heavenly and earthly realm. My beloved Muhammad, please transmit this profound meditation. The Light of Allah is the window that opens beyond all creation. On the sill of this shining window rests the precious lamp of the human soul, whose flame is pure and steady, protected by the transparent crystal of the heart that glistens delicately, like a star, with the soul’s light. This lamp, ignited by Divine Love alone, burns aromatic oil from the Tree of Life, that transcendent Tree found nowhere on earth, neither in the East nor in the West. This fragrant oil of wisdom radiates illumination spontaneously, not needing to be touched by any earthly fire. Thus the light of the soul and the Source of Light behind it blend, merge, and reappear in the mystery of eternal companionship, as the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah.

Speaking thus to humanity through the most subtle figurative language, the Source of Wisdom guides to enlightenment whomever It wills, for Allah is the One encompassing Awareness. 
- Meditation on Holy Quran 24: 35

Whatever human beings say about reality, whatever advanced concepts they may hold, the Ultimate Source Who is now speaking will always be more exalted. All that is possible for any being is to praise Allah Most High, for none can describe Him. The very nature and function of Being Itself is to praise the Source and Goal of Being. The entire temporal universe, as well as the seven eternal realms and all the forms of consciousness they contain, are simply the living praise of the Ever-Present Source. To be is to praise Allah. Human beings fail to perceive this boundless praise arising spontaneously from all minds and hearts, or else they would understand instantly why such utter compassion and forgiveness flow to every being from the Source of Love.
- Meditation on Holy Quran 17: 43–44 


Credit to Nur Ashki Jerrahi site and the full conversation revolving around Sufi Meditation can be read from here.

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