The Sakas Part eight

March 24, 2019 by  

Michael McClain

Firstly, a few observations.
It has been commented that I am “medieval and not modern, rural and not urban”, and that I am “an incurable idealist and romantic”. Just to put things in clear.
In spite of the years since his death, it is still practically impossible to speak of Ayatollah Khomeini in a cool, factual way. We have all heard Khomeini praised in an almost idolatrous way; on the other hand, I have heard him maligned and slandered in totally incredible ways, referred to as a communist, a homosexual, an opium addict, a pimp, and other totally incredible insults and slanders.
The great baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once said:
“If it’s true it ain’t bragging.”
To Paraphrase Dizzy Dean,
“If it’s true, it is not slander.”
I do not intend to either defend nor to slander Ayatollah Khomeini, but only to tell the truth. Some may think that what I say below is meant as a defense of Khomeini, while others (I trust in small number) will accuse me of slandering him. I have no intention of doing either, but only to tell the truth. Ayatollah Khomeini was a Sufi master, sheikh or pir, obviously, a follower of Haidar Amoli, who said: “Shi’ism is Sufism, Sufism is Shi’ism.”
Below Ayatollah Khomeini expresses his Sufi or mystical orientation clearly and concisely:
“The invocations of Sha’ban is a litany is a litany recited by the Shi’a Imams during the Islamic month of Sha’ban. The mystical quality or character of said litany is obvious to all students of mysticism. in the selection given below, Ayatollah Khomeini affirms that the Invocations of Sha’ban are indeed a mystical statement or document, thus affirming the words of Haidar Amoli: “Shi’ism is Sufism, and Sufism is Shi’ism.”
“Some people who have failed to understand the true meaning of certain terms and expressions used by the mystics, have gone so far as to declare them unbelievers. But let us see whether these concepts and turns do not also occur in the prayers of the (Shi’a) Imams (upon whom be peace). In the invocation of Sha’ban, which were by all recited by all the (Shi’a) Imams (something true od NO other prayer or invocation), we read as follows:
“O God, grant me total separation from other-than-Thou and attachment to You and brighten the vision of our hearts with the light of looking upon You, so that they may pierce the veils of light and attain the fountainhead of magnificence, and our spirits may be suspended from the splendor of Your sanctity. 0 God, make me one of those who answer You when You call, and who cry out at your splendor.
What is meant by these pleas? What did the (Shi’a) Imam mean by “total separation from the other-than-Thou and attachment to You”? Why did he (the Shi’a Imam) petition God for this form of spiritual advancement? He (the Shi’a Imam) pleads: “Brighten the vision of our hearts.”
What could this mean if not a form of vision enabling man to look upon God Almighty? As for ‘’pierce(ing) the veils of light and attain(ing) the fountainhead of magnificence” and “our spirits may be suspended from the splendor of God’s sanctity?
This is none other than the state that the Qur’an describes Moses as having attained, and none other than the effacement and vanishing of which the mystics speak. Similarly, the process of “attaining” the fountainhead of magnificence is precisely the same as the “attaining” to which the mystics refer. As for “the fountainhead of magnificence”. it is, of course, God Almighty, since all magnificence derives from Him, He is the fountainhead.
The terminology used by the mystics, then, is consistent with the Qur’an and the Sunna, and, for this reason, the concept of manifestation which they) the mystics) employ is to be preferred to the constructing notions of causality used by the philosophers.
… We must first understand what is being said, and in the case of the mystic, we must comprehend the inner state that prompts him to express himself in a certain way. Light may sometimes enter his heart in such a manner that he finds himself saying” “Everything is God,”
‘Remember that in the prayers you recite, expressions occur like “the eye of God”, “the hand of God”, “the ear of God”, and all these are all in the same vein as the terminology of the mystics.
There is also the tradition to the effect that when you place alms in the hands of a pauper, you are placing them in the hands of God. Then, too, there is the Qur’anic verse “When you cast the dust, you did not cast it, but God cast it” (VIII:17) What does it mean? That God cast the dust instead of the prophet?
That is the literal meaning, which you all accept, but those who experience the reality that is indicated in this verse cannot see max matters in the same way, and are bound to express themselves differently Nonetheless, you will find the expressions they (the mystics) use throughout the Qur’an and especially in the prayers of the (Shi’a) Imams. There is no reason to regard them with suspicion. We must understand why they (the mystics) express themselves in their particular distinct way, and why they have deliberately abandoned the common usage of which they are certainly aware.
They (the mystics) have insisted on doing this out of a refusal to sacrifice reality to themselves, and, instead, they have sacrificed themselves to reality. If we understand what such persons are attempting to say, we will also understand the terms which they use, which are, after all, expressions derived from the Qur’an and the traditions of the (Shi’a) Imams.
None of us has the right to say of a certain person or thing “This is God.” and no rational person would accept such a claim. However, one mat perceive a manifestation of God that is completely impossible to express other than by formulations such as this, which occur in a prayer concerning the “awliya” (great mystics).
“There is no difference between You and them, except they are Your servants, whose creation and dissolution lies in Your hands.”
The devotion of Ayatollah Khomeini to mysticism had consequences which are most interesting and require research, thought and meditation.
I January, 1989 Khomeini sent to Mikhail Gorbachev. To demonstrate the importance of said letter, Khomeini three important people, all Tahereh Hadidchi Dabbagh family friend who had accompanied Kohomeini to Paris Ayatollah Javad Amoli and Javad Larijani, a deputy foreign minister: all three were well versed in Islamic mysticism.
In a letter to Gorbachev, Khomeini expressed his hatred and loathing of Communism, saying, accurately, that that it was something which belonged in the museum of history. Khomeini also warned Gorbachev not to fall into the trap of materialistic capitalism, but to study Islam as a way of life However, what Khomeini recommended to Gorbachev was not the Qur’an nor other more usual works, but rather the writing of the great mystics Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Ibn Arabi and Suhrewardi.
The above puzzled and surprised many people. However, there is one thing said people should not forget: Gorbachev, in spite of everything.
As Ellis Sandoz has noted:
“Mysticism does not stand apart either from theology or from liturgical worship in Eastern Orthodoxy. Both theology and liturgy are suffused by the experience of persons and the common experience of the Church. There is no notion of a cleavage between individual experience and the common faith as in Western mysticism. Dogmas are defined in the light of experience and serve, in turn, to guide persons toward the attainment of an increasingly profound life in the Spirit. Neither faith nor theology is conceivable without mysticism.”
Leonid Duspensky cites the German Bishop Dr. K. Gamber:
“The Roman Catholic Church will eradicate its present errors and will arrive at a new renaissance (bad choice of words, at least in translation) only when it is able to incorporate the fundamental strengths of the Eastern (Orthodox) Church: its mystical theology based on the great fathers of the Church, and its liturgical piety. One thing seems beyond doubt: the future does not lie in a reconciliation with Protestantism (Amen to that!!!), but in an inward union with the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. that is, in a steadfast spiritual constancy with it, with its theology and piety,” Kievan Rus; received Eastern Orthodox Christianity form Byzantium, both directly and by way of Bulgaria. Russia, along with Ukraine, are the terrain of the Russian Orthodox Church. heir to the Church of Kievan Rus’, and which, along with the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox Churches, uses Church Slavonic, a Slavic language derived from Old Bulgarian, as its liturgical language. Of course, the Russian Orthodox Church has its own particular characteristics. Note that Leonid Ouspensky, Ellia Sandoz, and Archimandrite Sophrony (about whom we shall have much to say) though they speak in the name of Eastern Orthodoxy in general, in reality very much speak from a Russian Orthodox viewpoint.
As is well known, Muslim Spain or “al-Andalus” was a very great center of Sufism. Ibn Batuta (14th century (14th century) speaks of Persian dervishes (or Sufis) who chose the Jispano-Muslim Kingdom of Granada as their home because of its resemblance to their native land. Ibn Batuta mentions knowing in Granada a dervish from Tabriz, another from Samarkand, yet another from Kuniah (Konya in Asia Minor?) and two from India Perhaps the greatest figures among the many Sufies of Granada under the Nazrid Dynasty were Ibn Abbad of Ronda and Yusuf Qalandar al-Andalusi, mentor of the “Wandering Dervishes”. The very use of the Persian name “Qalandae” and the existence of dervish orders points a Persian influence, very much an Andalusi or Spaniard was Ibn Arabi, known to Sufies as (the Greatist Sheikh) or “The Greatest Pir~, he was born in Murcia, and thus is known as “Ibn Arabi el Murciano” or “Ibn Arabi de Murcia” note that Ibn Arabi of Murcia traveled widely, he received his Sufi training and
initiation in Spain, wrote an account of the Sufies in the Spain or al-Andalus of his day, and always identified himself as “Andalusi.”
Also note that Ibn Arabi of Murcia was one of the strongest influences on the great thinkers of Safavi Spain in the 17th century, also greatly influenced the mystical thought of Ayatollah Khomeini, and was prominently mentioned by Khomeini in his letter to Gorbachev.
From the words of Ellis Sandoz cited above, the reader may get the impression that the Catholic Church has no mystical tradition; however, this is completely false, in fact, the Catholic Church has a very rich mystical tradition.
Spain has a very rich mystical tradition, both Catholic and Muslim; Spain is unique in being the only country with both a very rich Muslim_ mystical tradition and a very rich Christian mystical tradition In Spain, copies of the works of St. John of the Cross and Ste. Teresa of Avila are sold in church foyers, and mysticism is part of all Spanish literature courses in effect, Spain has produced more mystics than any country west of Persia (though some Spaniards would say: “west of India”. Also. Many Russians and Ukrainians would say that it is Russia and Ukraine which have produced more mystics than any other country west of Persia or India However,
only Spain has produced both a very great Muslim mystical traditions very great Christian mystical tradition; Spain, whether Catholic or Muslim, is a land of mysticism.
No doubt the most famous and talented of the multitude of Spanish Catholic mystics was St. John of the Cross, of the 16th century.
While some Spanish mystics of the 16th century were indeed of Jewish Ancestry, including Ste. Teresa of Avila (often known in Spain as “Santa Teresa de Jesus”) and Fray Luis de Leon, this not true of St. John of the Cross Some say that St. John of the Cross also came from a Jewish family, but this is pure invention, with no basis in f a ct. Gonzalo de Yepes, father of St. John of the Cross was, as the Spanish say, “Old Christian on all four sides”, while his mother, Catalina Alvarez, was a Morisca, i.e., of Hispano-Muslim ancestry.
St. John of the Cross belonged to the Carmelite Order, the most mystical of all Catholic orders, and also the most Spanish of all Catholic orders, though, unlike the Dominicans and the Jesuits, it is not Spanish by origin. but, as the name indicates, was originally an eastern order (“Carmelite” refers to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land) which came to Europe with retreating crusaders. The Spanish word “carmen” used mainly in Andalusia, derived from the Arabic “al-qarm”, meaning “vine yard “, means, roughly, “flower garden, or “enclosed flower garden”. In Spain, the Carmelite monasteries or convents came to be known as “carmen” because of the similarity to the name “Carmel”. Thus, the Carmelite Order is often called “del Carmen” i.e. Of the Carmen’’ in Spain. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the Carmelite order, in Spain is almost always called “Nuestra Senora del Carmen” i.e., “our Lady of the Carmen”, or, more frequently, “Virgen del Carmen”, i.e., “Virgin of the Carmen”. This is why so many Spanish girls are named “Maria del Carmen”, generally shortened to “Mari Carmen” or simply, “Carmen”.
The peculiar Spanishness of this is recognized in this Carlist quatrain:
Where are you going, Virgin of the Carmen
With the lighted candle?
In search of King don Carlos
Because the patria is lost.
It was the works of St. John of the Cross which inspired the priestly vocation of Karol Wojtiwa, later Pope St. John Paul II, and St. John of the Cross is the subject of his doctoral thesis. Pope St. John Paul II frequently referred to himself as “this Slav”.
In the works of Feodor Dostoyevsky mentions that “ the Spanish mystics” were taught in the Russian Orthodox Church of his day, most notably in the novel Demons, which for some reason is generally translated as The Possessed; this is strange because the word “demo n “ is the same in Russian and English.
Among the various Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Rumanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Georgian, et cetera) only the Russian Orthodox Church finds St. John of the Cross and other Spanish mystics so interesting. Sergei Symeonovich Sakharov, known in the Russian Orthodox Church as “Archimandrite Sophrony” was one of the great thinkers of the Russian Orthodox Church of the 20th century, though he lived most of his life in exile, A theologian of mystical orientation, very much in the Russian Orthodox tradition, Archimandrite Sophrony thought very highly of St. John of the Cross, as Hieromonk Nikolai v. Sakharov, great nephew of Archimandrite Sophrony, notes:
“Fr. Sophrony works out a distinction between two types of God forsakenness. The first one is “man deserts God”. ‘To the extent that we live in this world, to that same extent we are dead in God.; The second one is when God hides from man – a dreadful state of God forsakenness When man has no more life in this world, that is, cannot live by this world, the memory of the divine world, that is draws him “there”, yet despite all this, darkness encompasses his soul/ He (Fr. Sophrony” explains: ‘these fluctuations of the presence and ascetic of grace are our destiny until the ring of our earthly life. Fr. Sophrony saw suffering as a necessary stage in ascetic development. Divine grace comes only in the soul that has undergone suffering; Fr. Sophrony thus parallels his own experiences with that of the Dark Night of the Soul in St. John of the Cross, whose writings assisted his comprehension of ascetic suffering.’ Fr. Sophrony calls St. John of the Cross a “genius” and admits that his description of states, while being different in terminology from) “not identical to” would perhaps be more accurate) to the eastern fathers, in its main dogmatic statements it is in accord with the greatest writers of eastern asceticism.
Fr. Sophrony highlights other important points in St. John of the Cross, such as the determination to follow the hard path against utmost resistance; the concern to preserve them mind pure of any image in his striving toward the divine; and the understanding of the spiritually perfect life as the unity of love.
He points out that St. John of the Cross’ book does indeed excite the soul toward determination to follow patiently through the dark and dry wilderness toward the “promised land” …
… It is tempting to see in Fr. Sophrony a borrowing from Carmelite spirituality, largely because of the emphasis he places on God forsakenness (very much in the Russian Orthodox tradition? Fr. Sophrony, as we mentioned in chapter one. was acquainted with the writings of St. John of the Cross and, to contrast to (Vladimir) Lossky, estimated them rather positively, some commentators have drawn parallels between St. Silouan, (a 19th century and early 20th century Russian Orthodox “stare” or mystic who also died in exile) and St. John of the Cross. As we mentioned earlier, Fr. Sophrony himself admits a certain affinity between St. John of the Cross’ experience and his own. For example, St. John of the Cross sees the dark night (of the soul) as a “mark of God’s intimacy” and “a part of the relationship”; for Fr, Sophrony, God forsakenness is a gift of God’s love. The question of the potential dependence of Fr. Sophrony on St. John of the Cross fits well within the context of the debates about the place of the “dark night of the soul spirituality in the East. (Vladimir) Lossk y ‘s opinion, outlined above, has been contested by (Irenee) Hausherr, (Heinrich von) Baltisar and (Cardinal Jean) Danielou, who highlight the similarities concerning God forsakenness in the East and the West. (Fr. Irenee) Hausherr concludes that the (Christian) East possesses all the elements that constitute these purifying nights. Others however, are more careful in drawing such parallels.”
In a personal communication, my good friend Seyyed Hossein Nasr told me: “You are completely right in emphasizing the unique rapport between Shi’ism and Sufism on the one hand and certain elements of Spanish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy on the other.”
St. John was inspired by the New Testament) Injil as well as by early Christian mystics, notably Dionysius the Pseud-Areopagite, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Ephrem the Syrian, and Martirium (“or “Sahdona” in the original Syriac) by the later Byzantine mystics, especially St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory Palamas, and by medieval western mystics, especially John Scotus Erugena, Hugh of st . Victor and Richard of St. Victor.
St. John of the Cross was also inspired by the Shi’a Imam~ notably Imam Hussein the 3rd Imam, Imam Jaafar the 6th Imam, and Imam Ali Reza, the 8th Imam. Note that the mother of Imam Ali Reza, the eighth Imam was Hispano-Muslim, and of Spanish rather than Arab or Berber ancestry.
to be continued


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