Friday, 19 February 2016

Religion of Mystery and Mystics

Science will die when it fails to wonder.

Socrates was declared the wisest Greek because he knew it is all Mystery and he knows nothing. Islam declared regarding the First Principle or Godhead – the Essence, the Truth or Zaat - that none knows it and we better acknowledge our bewilderment. Sufi’s journey ends in bewilderment – and therefore it never ends because one can’t cease experiencing revelations of Being, of which Heidegger, echoing mystics, talks. Love never ceases to entice, to devastate egos, to lead to greater and higher joys. Science will die when it fails to wonder or concludes it knows anything in all its depths and nuances. An artist keeps seeking more and more perfect embodiment of Infinite Beauty he elusively perceives or worships. Who can claim he knows infinite subtlety of dance of subatomic particles culminating in you and me who ask questions, zillions of possible neural connections, beauty and softness of moss on hard, dark rocks, healing power and otherworldly charm of child’s smile and mother’s kiss, organization of nucleic acids, proteins, organelles and cells  (and of anything in fact from lowly grass and ant to quasars) and Nothingness called consciousness?  A scientist unfolds, a poet celebrates, a philosopher contemplates, and a mystic becomes the part of the Mystery that is also joyful of which Messengers speak. The Mystery of subjectivity (who am I, of “I am that I am”), of intelligence that doubts  and asks why, of love that unites us and forces us to say goodbye to everything for its sake, of our certitude that is presupposed in every doubt of  the world, of the other.
      The world is so subtle, so charming, so beautiful, so wonderful, so elusive, so mysterious that if we ever care to see it without our ego/interests/ anxieties or thoughts intervening  we would fall in prostration and thank the One that grounds it all and that spirit of gratitude is what prayer or true religiosity is all about. For our deepest loves, obsessions, joys, there is no reason that reason can guess and we can say it is all sacred mystery. Fundamentalism, like Faustian scientism, seeks to demystify the world and ends by making it unliveable. It is the Question that keeps us fastened to life. When all our questions are answered in a manner that no more questions could be asked, we are in hell and will seek to commit suicide. Great wisdom is to live with “negative capability” or doubts or questions and not to be satisfied by answers popularly available from ideologies or populist preachers of all hues.
      Philosophy, art and religion have one meeting point and we can find almost all big minds in all these disciplines, in all ages, agreeing or understanding one another almost perfectly and this and that is reverence for wonder, for the mysterious or better the Mystery. Belief is in fact openness to the Al-Gayyib (the Unseen) which implies Mystery on the depths or essences of all things or phenomena. The interminable debate between theists and atheists is on certain important points merely linguistic and one can see all people declare the glory of God in their own ways, in the proportion their hearts and minds are capable of expanding. One prayer all humans need is “Rabbi Shrahli Sadri” (“O Lord, expand my breast”). The revelations of Being (what metaphysics calls Being, theology calls God and none disputes, in fundamental sense, the former but many, including many religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Chinese religions besides transtheistic mystics and atheists seem to dispute) are countless because “God is ever in new glory” and we see countless manifestations that constitute phenomena around (Aafaq) and within (Anfus) us inviting us to receive and contemplate them and wonder. “Keep wondering” is the first commandment if we are not to cease believing in the Real (Al-Haqq, the Real, the Truth, the Being – pure Being).
      The idea of God implies mystery and wonder. Speech, the “house of Being” could only have been received as a gift if Being is a gift. (God taught Bayan, says the Quran). Wittgenstein identified both ethics and aesthetics as transcendental or mysteriously grounded beyond self’s projections of space and time. All of Heidegger along with his powerful evoking of Holderlin is an invitation to be open to the Mystery called Being. Science solves problems but not the Mystery as Gabriel Marcel famously argued. Mystery involves us existentially; we participate in it. All things are holy or all is holy ground, exclaim Judaic and Islamic sources. And the holy is what fascinates and that is an aspect of Mystery. Art is grounded and leads to the mysterious. Philosophy not only begins in wonder but culminates in it as well if we see how philosophers from Plato to Levinas and Buber concluding with the note that the Other escapes our calculative rationality and we must die into the Thou.
      It is mysticism in religion that has affirmed the rights of the Mystery and our essential groundedness in the Mystery – we being only a clearing for Being as Heidegger would put it and warns us against reason as the greatest enemy of  what he calls thinking. We find  appropriation of the Mystery or mystical element in all great modern thinkers from Nietzsche to Heidegger to Derrida to Levinas. Name any great name in literature – one may easily recall figures such as Khalil Gibran, Tagore, Iqbal, Hesse, Kazanzakis, Camus, Beckett, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, Pamuk and Saramagov and one can find mystical element quite easily. Even the most famous amongst rationalist philosophers Russell has acknowledged complementarily of logic and mysticism in integral view of life. Wittgenstein read Tagore’s poetry in a convention of positivists. Absurdists also resort to mysticism to move beyond the absurd. The death of God theology and most post-Christian theologies and postmodern theologies are appropriations of ‘mystical.’ Mysticism, rightly understood, is the one thing needful towards which modern man gropes. Modern criticisms of religion are not rejection of the mystical. Mysticism, understood rightly, has not been deposed by modern thought. The world today is ready to learn from Rumi and Hafiz and Khayyam. It has intellectually and largely politically as well defeated fundamentalism that is arrogant and persecutes mysticism. Atheism can’t but respect mystics who have perfected the art of attention. Bugbie like atheist mystics almost converge with theistic mystics like Rumi and Iqbal when it comes to affirming love and selfless action. A critique of New atheists by Karen Armstrong is so persuasive it is grounded in mysticism. The last word is given to mystics by all great theologians including Aquinas and Ghazzali. When attention is perfected we see only God or through God’s eyes and it is all a perfection, a paradise, a feast of sense and intellect. Juristic cum theological critiques of Sufism as esotericism (and gnosis) constitute a category mistake and though once influential (when Hegel has not said God is dead) today fall flat when it is the likes of Heidegger or Derrida or Beckett that have to be addressed. In the war against disbelief and nihilism, Sufism or mysticism is the panacea or key armour. Take Mansoor Hallaj seriously, Derrida is reported to have said in his last years. In the age of Nietzsche and Derrida, old literalist theologies don’t work. It is Eckharts and Ibn Arabis that are, and need to be rediscovered. It is neo-Sufis like Guenons and Schuons and Lings that are heard and need to be heard. The best minds have always been converted through mystics primarily. It is what Arnold’s Preaching of Islam documents. Let us not forget, after postmodern turn, it is either the age of mystics or mystically tinged philosophy.

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