Archive for January, 2010

Keeping Our Eyes on the Road

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In his book on the Shaykh Al-Alawi, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, Martin Lings comments on one of the Shaykh’s aphorisms: “To demand increase showeth ignorance in a disciple.” According to Lings, this saying refers among other things to

the ignorance of supposing that things of the Spirit can be gauged like the things of this world, and that [a faqir] himself can judge whether or not he is receiving increase. A disciple of one of the Shaykh’s disciples [Lings is referring to himself in his own relation to Schuon] once complained to his Master: “I have regularly invoked the Supreme Name for more than ten years, but without any result.’ His Master replied: ‘If you could make in one moment all the spiritual progress you have gradually made in these ten years, it would cause a mortal rupture in your soul” (p. 209).

It is always a mistake to become distracted by the image in the rear-view mirror of our spiritual lives. Keep your eyes on the road.

Proofs, Perennialists, Pilgrimages

Friday, January 15th, 2010

You asked about current and upcoming courses.

Classes just started this week for me, and I’m offering two. First is an old standby I call “Faith, Doubt, and God“. Close to seventy brave souls have shown up to test my in-your-face promise to prove the existence of God. Or rather, since sheer cussedness has been known to take logic hostage, to show beyond all shadow of a doubt—quoting from the syllabus—that “the truly intelligent person, who is prepared to use his entire apparatus of knowing in the fullest possible way, will inevitably come to see that God exists”. Here’s a “flow chart” for how the course will proceed, and here’s a list of the readings from A Question of God, the course “Reader”.

The other course is a small honors seminar on “Yogis, Mystics, Monks, and Zen Masters”. As I explained to the students the first day, my aims are chiefly two: first, to provide some “data” for testing the perennialist thesis that there is a transcendent unanimity among the world’s religions, realized by the sages of those traditions in the “divine stratosphere” (Schuon) as distinct from the “human atmosphere”; and second, to challenge the prevailing academic consensus that religions are nothing more than beliefs, to be accepted by faith alone, whereas the empirical sciences are the exclusive purveyors of knowledge and certainty—an assumption widely shared, I noted, not only by skeptics but by religious people themselves. Here I quoted Coomaraswamy:

“It is mainly because religion has been offered to modern men in nauseatingly sentimental terms, and no longer as an intellectual challenge, that so many have been revolted, thinking that that “is all there is to” religion…. The severe discipline which any serious study of … religion and philosophy demands can serve as a useful corrective.”

I guaranteed my young charges that the readings I’d compiled for the course—on Yoga, Hesychasm, Zen, and Sufism—would, if nothing else, provide them with a large, demanding, and continuing dose of “intellectual challenge”.

As for up and coming attractions, I’m planning to teach a short course during my university’s “Maymester” later this spring. I’m calling it “Mysteries of the Christian East“, and it will include an off-campus trip to St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in southern Arizona, one of several monastic communities established by the Athonite elder Ephraim, a former abbot of Philotheou Monastery on the Holy Mountain. As you know, my regular university offering on “Christian Theology” is taught from a decidedly Orthodox standpoint; nonetheless I’ve thought for some time it would be good to create a teaching context that would allow me to draw even more fully and directly on my pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain in 2007. Given the Athonite avaton (ban) regarding women, and given the fact that university administrators would no doubt look askance on a course only men could take, a pilgrimage to the Sonoran Desert seemed a good second best!