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Zen and Islam: Falling into God

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.islam.sufism,alt.sufi,talk.religion.buddhism,talk.religion.misc,alt.religion.buddhism,alt.religion.islam,alt.philosophy.zen
From: (haramullah)
Subject: Zen and Islam: Falling into God
Date: 12 Jan 1999 12:51:04 -0800

49981221 IIIom Hail Guru!

Frank Gorin :
# ...I'm an iconoclast by nature, and it's for this reason that 
# I found a home in Zen Buddhism _ because it challenges me to keep silent
# about theoretical and imaginary problems of existence and to concentrate
# instead on the moment and its concreteness and discovery.  

the iconoclast who wants a structure that puts him into a place
where movement toward iconoclasm is forbidden?  there are very
wonderful stories of iconoclasm in Zen Buddhism (masters
burning Buddha statues for wood, etc.), but this does not come
close to the stringency which may be found in the mosque, where
no proximation of character (human) may be found and where even
stylizations are prevented aside from the character (written)
expressing the glory of Allah.

what greater challenge is it: to keep silent about that which
has no ultimate resolution or to give expression to that which
provides one side of the argument at each turn?  when we know
that the game is flawed, is it superior to refrain from playing
or to continually attempt to play the game as best we can and
find a way in which everyone may win?

the zikhr (remembrance) of Allah is not separate from the zazen
(sitting) of Buddhism.  both lead one back to the present, both
imply the greater, present reality of which we are all part.

the instructions of masters like Nagarjuna (one of the founders
of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism of which Zen is part) do
not seem to imply that quietism is the conduct of those who
admit of the dilemma of problematic expression.  they struggled
valiantly along with their contemporaries and tried to show
through logical argumentation the problems and limitations 
which are to be found in intellectual debate.

# But there's much down inside me that's still unsettled about 
# "God" and theism, and so once in a while I come back to this 
# environment (I was at tariqas a year ago) to be reminded of 
# the original problem and solution.

thank you for voicing this problem so succinctly.

# For me, and I think for most people, God is a psychological problem, 
# and this is why God is dressed up in such human clothing, with anger,
# judgement, parental love, etc., which is all a very complicated interior
# quandary -- and then religion itself mirrors this in an exterior way,
# with authority and expressed longings, rewards, taboos, etc., mostly
# dealing with early life and childhood

are we not made in the image of this God?  or is it the opposite, that
we make gods in our own image?  do we make of ourselves gods?  do
our objects and pets and self-images become effectively gods for us?
is this different than some cosmic Creator-god (God)?  what description
of the divine is most correct?  how can we tell?  if the divine spoke
to us could we trust it?  what would it say?  

when God speaks to me She (for me God assumes the feminine form) says
that this appearance is what some need, that we eventually see the
value of this and will transcend the urgent need for such an appearance
(as Ramakrishna is said to have done with Her).  and I can understand
this, knowing the beauty of the Formless, the exquisite majesty of
That Without Partner, the Way of Perfect Indistinction.

is this a "psychological problem"?  need I consider problematic the
fact that I enjoy the Beloved in the personality She has chosen for 
me?  is the harsh (I hear 'cruel, "realistic"') road of 
nonidolization the only means of coming to deal with this 'problem'?  
do I err by virtue of identifying the Formless One with the 
Beauteous/Horrible Goddess?  or have I somehow already transcended 
my need for Her form(s)?

what is path and what is goal here?  I suggest that whether one
comes to the place of flexibility, acceptingness and composure
with respect to the forms, or lack thereof, of the divine via the
road of ascetic rigor and restraint from idolization or through a
personal interaction with the divine (Jesus, Gabriel, Buddha,
Kali, perhaps even Shaitan) is completely UNIMPORTANT.  to
mistake the result with the method (Needleman makes a very good
argument that Christianity has done this in _Lost Christianity_)
can be a horribly painful error, and to foist this error off on
others is something I consider to be a sin in the eyes of any 
god of love.

# But what happens to the mystery of the universe and of life?  Does 
# anyone seriously believe that Islam or any religion explains this
# mystery?  Deep down and honestly - no.  Because the resolution isn't
# found in any formal explanation or any sort of -logy or revealed set 
# of instructions or a set of devotional practices but inside the mystery
# itself, which is already in one's own bones and blood.  

again, where it may be found and how to find it are different things,
though they can be integrally-related.  it may be the case, for
example, that different people need different routes to achieve the
same result (entry into what you are calling 'the mystery'; cf. the
Buddha's countless opportunities in His supposed 'upaya').  some
may need to be provided a formal explanation within which to operate,
some may need to seize upon a revealed set of instructions or a set
of devotional practices.  they cannot in fact merely look into their
bones and blood and perceive this precious mystery of which we speak.

# So, it's not necessary to "go" anywhere (e.g. Mecca) or to perform 
# rituals 

it is this comment with which I have the most disagreement in 
what you've written.  it seems to presume a cosmic 'need' which
doesn't vary in tone or style.  to say that 'it is not necessary'
with the implication 'in order to enter into this mystery' is, as
I see it, a horrible overstatement.  perhaps FOR YOU it is not
necessary (though you have said you needed the restraint of Zen's
silence in order to come to a place of peace with respect to 
divinity and theory, my paraphrase).  for others it is decidedly
valuable. and for still others it becomes a nasty trap within
which they can fly the flags of their certainty to their lasting

# - though there's nothing wrong with those things by nature and 
# they can in fact become powerful instruments of discovery if 
# they're used in freedom and not coercively or mechanically or 
# with some misbegotten idea of "saving" oneself.  I think the 
# whole problem is damned, dark frustration of trying to "save" 
# onself, and theistic religion - on the surface - is completely 
# colored and shaped with this madness.  

every goal-description becomes madness in its incompleteness.
salvation is, in its ineffable glory, what I consider to be the
same human experience as nirvana.  both are oriented human
experiences without attachment to the articles of life.  

the most simplistic rendition of BOTH of these 
goal-descriptions are futile and, inevitably, caustic.  
salvation becomes the choice of the coerced.  forced into a
situation which one never chose, one is constrained to obey
or be damned to tortures unimaginable.  nirvana becomes the
choice of the trapped. born into a repetitive and ceaseless
cycle of meaningless rebirths, one selects the 'Escape' door
and is exempted from playing the painful game, 'waking up'
from the nightmare in which one is living.

in both of these cases the focus is on transphysical reward
for present actions.  salvation happens after death, judged
by the Creator-god.  nirvana may happen partially while alive
(similar to how a saint develops perhaps), but the ultimate
reward (parinirvana) is the dissolution at bodily death,
never to return to this 'samsaric' nightmare.

in both cases there are more profound interpretations
of the descriptions which need no belief in the afterlife.
their process and reward can be experienced (however much
the religious may protest) in the PRESENT lifetime, simply
understood as a psycho-spiritual transformation with respect
to the cosmos and one's place in it.

it is not the particular description which is problematic
(any description can be incompletely understood or over-
simplified to become madness), but the way in which they
are instructed and comprehended by the religious themselves.

# The best madness is to fall into the mystery itself _ love, 
# light, suffering, death and the recollection of oneness.  
# May we all learn how to fall - gain such expertise. 

the record of the sages and prophets is precisely an attempt
to place into human history a description of this 'fall into
the mystery itself', along with the demonstration of their
attainment by virtue of the profundity of their expression.

but 'falling into the mystery' may not be as easy as it sounds.
too often we may try to fall into the mystery and instead
find that we fall into certainty, confusion, or misery.  the
problem is how to discern the signposts of mystery, how to
discover the proper path that leads to the Existential Cliff 
from which we may leap into the arms of the Beloved.

it is for this reason that mystical institutions and guides
within them develop. the Zen Master, the Sufi Sheikh: these
are people who, according to the particular lineage
calcified into human tradition, have become sufficiently
acquainted with the signs and processes of human development
that they can assist in finding that Cliff.

falling is a very important enterprise, I'm inclined to
agree, yet if we are not careful where and around whom
we fall, we may find that we are debilitated, or worse,
taken advantage of in our sincere and honest efforts to
fall in love rather than to fall to our doom.

peace be with you,

-- (emailed replies may be posted); cc me replies;;

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