(Funny ... It's a Different Religion But the Same Methods Over and Over Again!)
I once had a conversation with Thomas Cleary, who has translated more books on Taoism, Zen and Buddhism than anyone I know of. Thomas told me his best, most intelligent, and most impressive audiences for his topics of spiritual cultivation were always Moslem. If I remember correctly, he said that when he speaks about Taoism he always gets crazy people in his audience, the Zen and Buddhist audiences have their own idiosyncrasies, and the Christian crowds tend to be a little close-minded.
That comment on Moslems impressed me a lot. My own humble and independent opinion from my own observances is that the intellect, culture, refinement and bearing of Moslem audiences/attendees interested in spiritual cultivation is at the top tier, far surpassing most other groups. Most people don't appreciate Islamic cultivation, because various Moslem sects (just as in Christianity or Judaism) grab the spotlight.
In my Stages course we go into Islamic cultivation and how to match it with everyone else. Here's a few highlights:
Most people don't realize that Islam, too, follows the same principles of cultivation as does Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism and so forth. They don't know this because they are simply unfamiliar with the cultivation practices of Sufism, an Islamic sect of true cultivation practice.
Here's some similarities that Islamic cultivation has with Buddhism, Taoism and the Eastern spiritual paths.
In Islam, "seeing the Tao" is called "seeing God's face." The kundalini phenomenon is called "the fire of separation" in Islam whereas yoga calls it the "gastric fire" or "kundalini," Taoism calls it the "clumsy fire," Tibetans call it the "tumo heat," and Christianity calls it "incendium amoris."
Most of these spiritual schools make references to the major four chakras, as is done in Tibetan Esoteric cultivation, because you can cultivate them to attain samadhi states. Islam is no stranger to this practice.
Sufism refers to these four chakras as the Teacher (crown chakra), Mysterious (throat chakra), Secret (heart chakra) and Self (navel chakra) respectively. The Hopi Indians of American also speak of these chakras, and describe them as being located on the crown of the head and in the regions of the throat, heart and near the navel.
Michael Maier, representing the Western spiritual traditions, also illustrates them in his masterpiece, a western alchemical work called Atalanta Fugiens. Incidentally, Master Nan happened to give a presentation on the meaning of the pictures in this text, at my request, and soon I'll be turning it into a cassette tape course since that's an easier way to pass on the cultivation teachings than writing about the diagrams and their meaning. Sometimes it's just better to hear someone speaking to you as you look at the pictures, which we'll be posting on the website in a month or so.
Islam recognizes the importance of cultivating samadhi to attain spiritual states, and recognizes the enemies of samadhi cultivation as being torpor (laziness) and excitedness or distraction. That's why a ninth-century Egyptian Sufi correctly commented, "The repentance of the masses is from sins whereas repentance of the elect [cultivation practitioners] is from distraction." Such a quote reinforces standard cultivation principles. Pick up any book on Tibetan or Chinese cessation-contemplation practice and you'll read about these two enemies of lethargy and distraction.
As with Zen's emphasis on expedient means, a famous Sufi saying also runs, "you must wear the outer garment of the law (by following societal norms), but you must wear the inner garment of the transcendental way." In other words, cultivate the Tao but fulfill your daily responsibilities and match with conditions around you. Cultivate the Tao but fulfill your worldly responsibilities due to karmic conditions. Eat, sleep, chop wood, fetch water but always cultivate the Tao.
Isn't it interesting how all these spiritual schools have teachings that parallel one another?
Another example taken from Islam, which Herbert Benson recorded in his book, The Relaxation Response, gives a clear description of mantra practice for attaining samadhi, which is called "dhikr" in the Sufi tradition:
Let the worshipper reduce his heart to a state in which the existence of anything and its non-existence are the same to him. Then let him sit alone in some corner, limiting his religious duties to what is absolutely necessary, and not occupying himself either with reciting the Koran or considering its meaning or with books of religious traditions or with anything of the sort. And let him see to it that nothing save God most High enters his mind. Then, as he sits in solitude, let him not cease saying continuously with his tongue, "Allah, Allah," keeping his thought on it. At last he will reach a state when the motion of his tongue will cease, and it will seem as though the word flowed from it. Let him persevere in this until all trace of motion is removed from his tongue, and he finds his heart persevering in the thought. Let him still persevere until the form of the word, its letters and shape, is removed from his heart, and there remains the idea alone, as though clinging to his heart, inseparable from it. So far, all is dependent on his will and choice; but to bring the mercy of God does not stand in his will or choice. He has now laid himself bare to the breathings of that mercy, and nothing remains but to wait what God will open to him, as God has done after this manner to prophets and saints. If he follows the above course, he may be sure that the light of the Real will shine out in his heart.
What do Moslems hope to attain by spiritual cultivation?
Samadhi and the Tao, which they describe through poetic images for the masses. Once again you have one description for cultivators and you veil that description for the masses who just cannot get it unless they truly cultivate spiritual practice.
There's a poetic description of a genuine samadhi experience in the writings of Abu Yazid, who was the grandson of a Zoroastrian. He was the founder of the ecstatic ("drunken") school of Sufism of which we can make comparisons to Hasidism, devotional bhakti Hinduism, and ecstatic Christian cultivation.
Abu Yazid poetically described a journey to Heaven, in imitation of the Prophet Mohammed's ascension, which captured the imagination of later writers but which incorporates some characteristics of an advanced samadhi experience:
"Abu Yazid related as follows.
I gazed upon God with the eye of certainty after that He had advanced me to the degree of independence from all creatures, and illumined me with His light, revealing to me the wonders of His secrets and manifesting to me the grandeur of His He-ness.
Then from God I gazed upon myself, and considered well the secrets of my self. My light was darkness beside the light of God; my grandeur shrank to very meanness beside God's grandeur; my glory beside God's glory became but vainglory. There was purity, here all was foulness.
When I looked again, I saw my being by God's light. I realized that my glory was of His grandeur and glory. Whatsoever the eye of my physical body perceived, it perceived through Him. I gazed with the eye of justice and reality; all my worship proceeded from God, not from, and I had supposed that it was I who worshipped Him.
I said, "Lord God, what is this?"
He said, "All that I am, and none other than I."
Then He stitched up my eye, not to be the means of seeing and so that I might not see, and He instructed the gaze of my eye in the root of the matter, the He-ness or Himself. He annihilated me from my own being, and made me to be everlasting through his own everlastingness, and He glorified me. He disclosed to me His own Selfhood, unjostled by my own existence. So God, the one Truth, increased in me reality. Through God I gazed on God, and I beheld God in reality.
There I dwelt a while, and found repose. I stopped up the ear of striving; I withdrew the tongue of yearning into the throat of disappointment. I abandoned acquired knowledge, and removed the interference of the soul that bids to evil. I remained still for a space, without any instrument, and with the hand of God's grace I swept superfluities from the pathway of root principles. "
What about the state where one realizes the Tao, and has no more individual ego?
The Islamic saint, al-Hallaj was killed for saying "I am God" when he reached that state. Jesus also said "The Father and I are one," and was crucified. Krishna said something similar but escaped any such cruel fate, and many Zen masters have said similar things. The point is, intellectuals, religious people, the masses have no understanding of this state and always think you are speaking heresy or blasphemy.
The mystic poet Rumi talked about the Islamic saint al-Hallaj's claim, "I am God," saying:
"This is what is signified by the words Ana 'l-Haqq "I am God." People imagine that it is a presumptuous claim, whereas it is really a presumptuous claim to say Ana 'l 'abd "I am the slave of God"; and Ana 'l-Haqq "I am God" is an expression of great humility. The man who says Ana 'l 'abd, "I am the slave of God," affirms two existences, his own and God's, but he that says Ana 'l-Haqq, "I am God," has made himself non-existent and has given himself up and "I am God," i.e., "I am naught, He is all": there is no being but God's. "
Isn't this the same path of spiritual cultivation as all the other religions? Stop and think about what I'm revealing here -- which is that the path of spiritual cultivation is basically the same but simply framed differently in different religions, especially when dealing with the masses. Throw in wars, political rivalries between groups, money flows, reinterpretations by intellectuals rather than cultivators and the true path is lost or is hidden.
That's just the way it is.
(1) Find the true path of cultivation and uncover the true, fundamental cultivation principles. That's what are books and articles are all about. The principles and path are fundamentally non-denominational, which is why they are "ontologically" sound.
(2) Start practicing meditation according to what you've learned
(3) When gong-fu arises due to your spiritual practice, recognize that it isn't anything special and has been cataloged before - you are NOT a special case
(4) Forget your body, mind, emotions and keep focused on the principle of Emptiness for each and every stage of the path
(5) If you're lucky you'll find a good teacher, but it all comes down to the personal work of devoted, disciplined, stick-with-it meditation practice and there are hundreds of meditation techniques to choose from, but they all involved training to free yourself from thoughts
(6) It's all about attaining samadhi as a stepping stone to attaining the stage of non-ego, or spiritual enlightenment
That's it for this short lesson on Islamic cultivation and its parallels with the other cultivation schools of the world. The path is the same, the stages are the same, gong-fu is the same, and methods used are similar.
One last note.
Contrary to what people believe because of zealots mistakenly turning "jihad" into a reason to kill those who don't follow their ways or beliefs, rather than turning it within as a reminder to "kill thoughts" and practice emptiness meditation themselves, the Islamic worldview has often been generous enough and large enough to embrace all religions. Not always, but sometimes. This is the stand I would like to see Islamic countries openly support once again in full flavor. For instance, the Ikwan al-Safa Brethren of Purity felt that a seeker after truth must "shun no science, scorn no book, nor cling fanatically to a single creed." The true Islam is particularly open, generous and tolerant in this fashion, for as Ibn al-Arabi wrote,
"Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for, he says, "Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of al-Lah." (Koran 2:109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance. "
Let us hope Moslems, the world over, abandon fanatical views that are really politics clothed in religion, and welcome the path to Tao in all its various forms.