The Question of Consciousness

May 21, 2011

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

What is it about us that ultimately make us who we are? Our genetic nature, upbringing, culture, religion? If it is a combination of all of them that defines the way we think and feel about things, the way we treat family and friends, the way we think about ourselves, then what is left when all of that is changed or dissipated or lost?

The human mind is a wondrous and fragile thing, a spongy mass protected by a hard shell of bone, and I have known bright, articulate men who, after head injuries, became sad, babbling idiots. I have known dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, including my father, who could barely recognize his own children. What conclusion can be made other than that the mind, the so called seat of consciousness, that central sense of self and ego that imagines the world and visualizes thoughts in 3 dimensions, depends on nothing more than the proper workings of the electro-chemical transmitters in the grey matter of the brain.

And if that is so, what is this “soul” then, this spark, this essential presence said to be within us that is a speck of the Divine Mind, a mote of the Godhead? Is it this undetectable soul that causes us to breathe in reverence the name of God when we glance upward toward the heavens? Is it this mote without locus that is the better angel of our natures, the mirror that when polished reflects God’s light?

It may indeed be so, and even if we come to a state of confusion and memory loss due to age or disease or injury, that place is inviolate; the higher self of consciousness and awareness.

But when consciousness dissipates after death, does awareness remain? My own out of body experience, that I have written about here, suggests that it does in some form. This question was also once put to Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, late Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order. He said in answer, “A drop falls into the ocean and becomes one with the ocean, but it does not lose its wetness.”

God knows the truth!

Ya Haqq!


When Death Comes – A Poem by Mary Oliver

March 18, 2011

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

 

Ya Haqq!


What is left behind when we die

June 7, 2010

What is left behind when we die
but bone and dust

And kindness given and love
shared

From which other kindnesses
are born

And love expands from us
exponentially

Each death a gift of love
to the living

Life evolving in spirit as well
as matter

Which is as God intends
after all

- Irving Karchmar,  © June 2010


Meditation on Death

April 9, 2010

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Because I could not stop for Death he kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just Ourselves and Immortality.Emily Dickinson

In December of 1986, I was operated on to remove my pituitary gland and the small benign tumor within it that had resulted in Cushing’s Disease, and had caused a lengthy hospital stay in the beginning of that year. It was during that earlier hospital stay that I had the out-of-body experience I have written about in a previous post (which you can read here).

I remember the anesthesia being administered and being told to count backwards from one hundred. At about 96, I blinked my eyes, and when I opened them again an instant later, I was being wheeled back to my room. I asked the nurse, “When does it start?”  She answered, “It’s all over.”

Eight hours had passed in the blink of an eye. It could have been eight years, or eight million. The anesthesia blanked me out of existence so completely, that I wondered if death was like that:

An instant that lasts for eternity!

In the years since those two events, and as I approach my sixty-fifth birthday, death itself holds no fear for me, because just as in the Angel of Death excerpt from Master of the Jinn, I really do consider it a mercy from God.  But I cannot but wonder if one of those experiences holds the answer to the great mystery of what comes afterward.  Both possessed the immediacy of experiential truth, but can both be real? Is the instant of nothingness a precursor to awaking on a different plane of existence? Can it be that our spirit, or soul, or ka, or whatever your faith calls it, leaves the physical body at death and after an instant of blankness, joins, or rejoins, the Eternal Godhead?

Socrates asked the same question, concluding: “Death is one of two things…Either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything; or, as we are told, it is really a change: a migration of the soul from one place to another.”

My late father-in-law believed the former. Once I asked him if he thought that we live on after death. He said, “Yes, in blood and memory.”  In other words, we live on in the bloodline passed to our children and grandchildren and down the generations. And in the memory they carry of us, until that is lost in time, when those that still remember us have also died.  He considered himself a realist.

And yet, the first law of thermodynamics, an expression of the principle of the conservation of energy, states that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed.

Is that also true of the energy of consciousness, which is, after all, the only part of us that really would go on after the body dies? Or is it just our greater Self that goes on, our soul, which is that ineffable part of us that is always in touch with, and originally a part of, the Oneness of Divine Love? Inshallah, it is so.  I do not mind at all leaving the lesser self behind; the individual ego with its fears and jealousy and enmity and regrets. Let it die as the electro-chemical brain and body functions come to a stop.

I know that love goes on.  And after years on the Sufi path,  I have seen what can only be described as a glimpse of… something other.

There is some comfort in the belief that the body is nothing but a shell for the evolution of consciousness, “to evolve toward the Godhead,” as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest wrote in The Phenomenon of Man.

And, so as not to waste what God has given, I am also an organ donor; I prefer to leave all organs that are still of any use to help others, and the rest to be cremated.  I like the efficiency of the fire, taking up as little room at the end as I did at the beginning. And I like the idea of my ashes scattered to the winds of the world.

But does individual consciousness completely die? Or does the soul or greater Self have its own higher level of consciousness? My late Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, was asked this very question, and he said, “In the end, the drop becomes one with the Ocean, but it does not lose its wetness.”

There is hope in that statement. I have studied many religions and their beliefs of the afterlife, and in all honesty they sound mainly the same, a heavenly paradise where the individual self consciousness, and often the resurrected body, is kept intact and rewarded or punished for its life on earth in just measure to its deeds. But if the individual self stops at the end of life, the afterlife must be something else entirely. What that something else, that wetness is, is one of the eternal questions of living beings.  The ultimate mystery!

And that’s what I’m counting on :) All questions are inevitably useless. The answer will come soon enough!

No mythology and metaphor for me. I want the great mystery, all of it, no matter what it is—a billion years in the blink of an eye, or an infinite panorama as vast as the universe; and an endless sea of stars on which to sail.

Death is an angel with two faces; to us he turns a face of terror, blighting all things fair; the other burns with glory of the stars, and love is there.
– T. C. Williams

Alhamdulillah!

Ya Haqq!


Rumi’s Nuptial Night – Dec. 17, 1273

December 14, 2008

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

On December 17th, 1273 AD, Mevlana Jalal al-din Rumi died at Konya. The 17th of December is thus called Sheb-i Arus, meaning ‘Bride’s Night” or ‘Nuptial Night’ or ‘Wedding Night,’ because of the union of Mevlana with God. As Rumi’s epitaph states:

‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.’

Rumi was a universally loved genius, one of the greatest servants of humanity, founder of the Mevlevi Sufi Brotherhood, his poetry and doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness and charity, and awareness through love. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has reached men of all sects and creeds.

Love and imagination are magicians

Who create an image of the Beloved in your mind

With which you share your secret intimate moments.

This apparition is made of nothing at all,

But from its mouth comes the question,

“Am I not your Loved One?”

And from you the soft reply, “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

~ Rumi ~

Inna lillahi wa-inna ilayi raji’un.
(We belong to God and to God are we returning)

Ya Haqq!


On Death

March 29, 2008

Death is not extinguishing the light;
it is only putting out the lamp
because the dawn has come.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Ya Haqq!


“Lord, I Obey Willingly”

December 27, 2007

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

“Truly, to Allah we belong, and truly to Him we shall return.”Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 156.

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali woke up early one morning as usual, said his prayers, and then inquired what day it was. His younger brother, Ahmad al-Ghazali, replied,”Monday.” At that, the Imam asked him to bring his white shroud, kissed it, stretched himself full length and said, “Lord, I obey willingly.” And he breathed his last.

Underneath his head rest they found the following verse; composed by him, probably, during the night.

Say to my friends, when they look upon me dead
Weeping for me and mourning me in sorrow
Do not believe that this corpse you see is myself
In the name of God, I tell you, it is not I,
I am a spirit, and this is naught but flesh
It was my abode and my garment for a time.
I am a treasure, by a talisman kept hid,
Fashioned of dust, which served me as a shrine,
I am a pearl, which has left its shell deserted,
I am a bird, and this body was my cage
Whence I have now flown forth and it is left as a token
Praise to God, who hath now set me free
And prepared for me my place in the highest of the heavens,
Until today I was dead, though alive in your midst.
Now I live in truth, with the grave-clothes discarded.
Today I hold converse with the saints above,
With no veil between, I see God face to face.
I look upon Loh-i-Mahfuz* and therein I read
Whatever was and is and all that is to be.
Let my house fall in ruins, lay my cage in the ground,
Cast away the talisman, it is a token no more
Lay aside my cloak, it was but my outer garment.
Place them all in the grave, let them be forgotten,
I have passed on my way and you are left behind
Your place of abode was no dwelling place for me.
Think not that death is death, nay, it is life,
A life that surpasses all we could dream of here,
While in this world, here we are granted sleep,
Death is but sleep, sleep that shall be prolonged
Be not frightened when death draweth near,
It is but the departure for this blessed home
Think of the mercy and love of your Lord,
Give thanks for His Grace and come without fear.
What I am now, even so shall you be
For I know that you are even as I am
The souls of all men come forth from God
The bodies of all are compounded alike
Good and evil, alike it was ours
I give you now a message of good cheer
May God’s peace and joy for evermore be yours.


Ya Haqq!

Note: *Loh-i Mahfuz, or Umm-al Kitab, is the Preserved Tablet, which has inscribed on it the original attributes of each creation, its function and relationship to other creations in the Universe.

- Originally from the Jannah.org website.


Rumi’s ‘Nuptial Night’ – December 17th

December 16, 2007

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

On December 17th, 1273 AD, Mevlana Jalal al-din Rumi died at Konya. A universal genius, one of the greatest servants of humanity, founder of the Mevlevi Sufi Brotherhood, his poetry and doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness and charity, and awareness through love. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has reached men of all sects and creeds.

The 17th of December is called Sheb-i Arus, meaning ‘Nuptial Night’ or ‘Wedding Night’. The night of his death is called thus because of the union of Mevlana with God. As Rumi’s epitaph states:

‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.’

Since this year is the 800th Anniversary of his birth, it is also fitting that we celebrate his death and his ultimate union with the Beloved.

Ya Haqq!


King Solomon and the Jinn

July 13, 2006

And now listen, those that have ears, to a tale of Solomon the King. Yes, Solomon, the mightiest and wisest ruler of the earth that ever was or shall be. Wealthy beyond measure was Solomon, and with such wisdom as only Allah may bestow. And lo, he commanded the wind, and both men and Jinn, birds and animals. All were servants unto him. Yet he lost favor in the sight of God, for neither wealth nor power nor wisdom brought him enlightenment.

His true name was Jedidiah, the ‘friend of God’ but was
later made Shelomo, Solomon, the ‘King of Peace,’ because of the peace that prevailed during the greater part of his reign. And other names he had also: Ben, because he was the builder of the Temple; Jekeh because he was the ruler of the known world; and Ithiel, because God was with him.

It is written that at the time Solomon began the building of the Temple, Assaf, the Vizir of Solomon, complained that someone was stealing precious jewels from his rooms, and from other courtiers as well. Even the royal treasury was not immune. Now Assaf was also renowned for his wisdom and knew that no ordinary thief could have done these deeds. ‘Some evil spirit causes this mischief,’ he counseled the King.

Solomon then prayed fervently to God to deliver the wicked spirit into his hands for punishment. At once his prayer was answered. The archangel Michael appeared before the
King, and put into his hand the mightiest power that ever was or shall be in this world…a small, golden ring, inset with a seal of engraved stone.

And Michael said: ‘ Take this ring, O Solomon King, son of
David, the gift which the Lord God hath sent unto thee. Wear this ring, and all the demons of the earth, both male and female, thou wilt command.’

Now, many medieval sources claim that the pentalpha, or
pentacle, the ancient sign of sorcery, was engraved on the ring, because Solomon was said to have been a master of the magic arts. But the pentacle is older than Solomon,
first seen on pottery from Ur of the Chaldees, in ancient Babylon.

Other sources describe the ring as made of pure gold, set
with a single shamir stone; a diamond perhaps, or the same heavenly green shamir stone said to have been part of the Temple. The stone was cut and set in the form of an eight-rayed star. On it was engraved the hexagon seal, and within that the four letters of the ineffable name of God.

No stone was ever so renowned as the stone in the ring of Solomon. For with it the whole earth came under his sway. Only death was beyond his power to control. Yes, death is beyond all power, save the One. There is no remedy for death other than to look it constantly in the face. We who are born will die; we must submit. Even he who held the world under the seal of his ring is now only a mineral in the earth.

Armed with the ring, Solomon commanded the guilty spirit
to appear. He wore the ring on the mid-finger of the right hand, and pointed it at the foot of his high throne,
saying, ‘By the power of the seal of the one God, I command thee, troublesome spirit, to come forth.’

A roaring column of flame instantly appeared, reaching
nearly to the high ceiling of the throne room many cubits above, and just as quickly was gone. Whether the flame itself took shape, or merely preceded him, could not be seen, but where the flame had been, the demon stood, caught in his mischief; for he still clutched in his hands a great many jewels just stolen from the royal vaults.

So great was his surprise that he dropped the gems, which scattered like pebbles on the marble floor, and his red eyes darted back and forth like twin flames in that broad,
swarthy face. And wide wonder came into those terrible eyes that some power existed among mortal men that was greater than his will.

Twice the height of the King he was and more, greater even than Goliath that David slew, the King’s father. And of so dark and menacing a countenance was the demon that even Assaf the wise drew back in horror. Only Solomon stood firm, and a light shone before him.

Then the demon saw the face of the King, whose arm pointed toward him, and beheld the seal of the ring. The demon’s cruel, lidless eyes went wide, and he let out such a ghastly, howling shriek that the very stones of the palace trembled to their foundation. It was so horrible a sound that all the people of the kingdom who heard it covered their ears and cast themselves on the ground in fear. Oxen died of terror in the fields and birds fell from the sky, for it was like unto the cry of a soul newly plunged into the flames of hell.

But the power of God was within the ring, so that even the
demon was helpless. He fell to his knees and prostrated himself before the King.

‘Mercy, Master!’ cried the Jinni.

‘Name thyself, demon.’ commanded Solomon.

‘I am called Ornias, O Great King!’

‘Why hast thou done such mischief to my household? Speak truly!’

‘Hunger, Lord of the World! Hunger insatiable!’ And he
revealed himself as a vampire spirit, who with fangs harder than adamant pierces the gems of the earth to drink their light.

‘Why dost thou drink the light of earthly jewels?’ demanded
Assaf the Vizir, ‘It is a thing unheard of among the wise.’

But the Jinni was silent.

Speak the answer,’ said the King, ‘I command it.’

‘Thou knowest my answer, King of Wisdom,’ said the demon.

Then Solomon looked into his heart, for the forty-nine
gates of wisdom were open to him, as they had been to Moses. This derives from the belief that each word of the Torah has forty-nine meanings. And he discerned there the answer, and it amazed him, so that he looked on the creature before him with a new understanding and pity.

Know then the sorrow of the demon. For the gems
of the earth were born at the dawn of the world, created by the death of ancient forests buried beneath the weight of mountains. It was a time of upheaval when both Jinn and Angels were cast out and the world was broken. The light of the new sun was still in the green life of those forests as slowly they were transformed, crystallized
by the long years into the light that sparkles from the cut and polished jewels. And so Ornias the demon, denied the light of heaven, drinks the light of the first morning, feeding his sorrow and his loss.

And so, Solomon burned the seal into the neck of Ornias as a brand of his sovereignty, and the Jinni from that moment did his bidding, and was given the task of cutting stones for the building of the Temple.

And other of the Jinn who were causing mischief within the
realm were also commanded to come forth: Onoskelis, who had the shape and skin of a fair-hued woman; Asmodeus, who professed the Hebrew faith and was said to observe the Torah; Tephros, the demon of the Ashes, and after him a group of seven females spirits who declared themselves to be the thirty-six elements of the darkness; and Rabdos, a ravenous, hound-like spirit. All were branded with the seal of the ring.

Others there were also for another tale, but one more for
this: A demon having all the limbs of a man, but without a head. The demon said, ‘I am called Envy, for I delight in
devouring heads. But I hunger always, and desire YOUR HEAD NOW.’

The Master smiled. “Indeed, envy is the prison of the spirit,” he said.

Adapted from Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel


The Angel of Death

June 25, 2006

“And now listen, those that have ears, to a tale of Solomon the King. Yes, Solomon, the mightiest and wisest ruler of the earth that ever was or shall be. Wealthy beyond measure was Solomon, and with such wisdom as only Allah may bestow.

“And lo, he commanded the wind, and both men and Jinn, birds and animals. All were servants unto him. Yet he lost favor in the sight of God, for neither wealth nor power nor wisdom brought him enlightenment.

“One day, while King Solomon was walking alone in the royal garden, he came upon Azrael, the Angel of Death, who was pacing back and forth with a most worried expression. Solomon knew well the face of the Deadly Servant, for with the sight given unto him he had seen Death often, hovering over battles, or in the tents of the ill and wounded. When Solomon asked what troubled him, the Angel sighed, saying that he had on his list of those destined for the next world two scribes of Solomon, the brothers Elihoreph and Alijah.

“Now Solomon was grieved at the thought of losing his scribes, for he had known them since childhood and loved them like brothers. So he ordered the Jinn to carry Elihoreph and Aljah to the fabled city of Luz, the only place on earth where Death has no power. Instantly the Jinn did as he commanded, but the two scribes died at the very moment they reached the gates of that city.

“The next day Azrael appeared before Solomon. The Angel of Death was greatly pleased and said, ‘I thank thee, O King, for speeding thy servants to the place appointed. The fate destined for them was to die at the gates of that far city, but I had no idea how they were to travel so great a distance.’

“Now the King wept exceedingly, torn between sorrow and wrath at the death of his friends and the inescapable doom of men. And Azrael wondered greatly at this. ‘Why do you weep, O Lord of the World?’

‘For the long friends of my youth who are with me no more,’ said the King. ‘Have you no pity for those whose life you end?’

‘Pity?’ exclaimed Azrael scornfully. ‘You weep for the loss of their companionship. Your true sorrow is for yourself, and your wrath is truly self-pity. Alas, it has darkened your wisdom. Death is the most sublime gift of God, distilling from this life of fleeting joys and many sorrows that single drop which is the soul. Of such wine, O King, is poured the Sea of Light. Praise Allah that I, who am to you the Angel of Death, am in truth the Angel of Mercy.’“

From Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel


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