Saturday, February 04, 2006

WHO OWNS GOD? (Part Two)

[Image copyright by Don Beck]

[In part one of this series, I introduced the premise that the culture wars in America are not so much about values as they are about the definition of God. Americans are not split between believers and non-believers, but they certainly do not agree on how to define God. Part three in this series will be posted soon. Each section is also cross-posted at Raven's View]

Toward an Integral Politics, Part Two

The God-Stream Along the Spiral

The descriptions for each Meme, as presented here, are taken from the original Beck and Cowan book, Spiral Dynamics©, and from Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology. Any attempt to discuss these complex worldviews in a few words is necessarily an approximation. Please also remember that no person can ever be reduced to a single Meme, even if they seem to be a perfect specimen of that Meme.

I'll start this examination of God along the Spiral at the Spiral's base. At the Beige level of the Spiral, there is no idea of God at all. People at this level are only capable of focusing on survival needs. There is likely very little sense of identity because the self is pre-rational and pre-egoic. A Beige worldview is typical of infants, the mentally-ill homeless, the senile elderly, and the earliest primal human cultures. People at this level are concerned only with day-to-day survival.

When Purple begins to emerge, people perceive a world filled with spirits that can both help and hurt a person or tribe. There isn't one God but many spirits, each with a specific realm of power. Worship is centered on rituals, charms, and talismans. Many of the oldest discoveries of talismanic art originate in the period when the Purple Meme first began to emerge (about 50,000 years ago). Most shamanic cultures also originated in the Purple Meme, while many modern, neo-shamanic movements, with origins in the Green Meme, regress to a Purple worldview (worst case, but most common) or seek to revitalize the Purple Meme in their Meme stack (less common, but more appropriate).

With the arrival of the Red Meme (around 7,000 years ago), for the first time people are beginning to develop a self that is distinct from the tribe, which is then reflected in their view of the gods. Individual gods are imbued with human traits, perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the early Greek and Hindu pantheons. These gods possess ultimate power over the fate of humans, but they suffer the same weaknesses as the rest of us--lust, greed, hubris, and so on. The predominant mode of life is still tribal, however, and one's tribe defines one's worldview. Twenty percent of the world still operates within this value Meme, which is most obvious in Africa and the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where centralized government has been weakened or eliminated.

When the Blue Meme emerged about three to five thousand years ago, during the Axial Age, all of the world's major religious traditions emerged along with it. For the first time in Western history, there was one God--a jealous, angry, spiteful God who demanded strict obedience and did not tolerate belief in any other God. The Old Testament God of the Jews was intimately involved in human affairs from Genesis through the Book of Job. With the New Testament, God intervened one last time in human affairs and sent his Son to redeem all of humanity. This act affirmed Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah and established Christianity as a revolutionary Jewish movement that quickly developed its own identity in opposition to many Jewish traditions. With the emergence of Islam in the seventh century, Mohammed proclaimed himself the final emissary from God, while acknowledging Jesus and the Old Testament prophets as part of his spiritual lineage. Few seem to realize that Yahweh of Judaism, God of Christianity, and Allah of Islam are the same God seen through different cultural viewpoints (red-BLUE, BLUE, and BLUE-orange, respectively).

In Eastern cultures, the idea of God was also narrowed to a single concept, but it generally wasn't a humanized God. Rather than an entity, God became a state of being, whether Nirvana or the Tao. However, many Eastern traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, still have their pantheons of gods, goddesses, and other deities. There are often strict rules for worshipping the various divine figures. In fact, in every culture exhibiting the Blue Meme, rigid social structures, distinct ideas of right and wrong, obedience to the social order, and a variety of other structures enforce conformist rule. Currently, forty percent of the world's population operates within this Meme.

In the United States, the Blue Meme is experiencing a resurgence in power as a result of the past two presidential election cycles--when they got Blue-centered Christian in the White House. The Christian version of the Blue Meme reflects the view that the Bible is the literal word of God, that creationism explains human origins, and that America is a Christian country blessed by God. This Blue Meme rejects post-modern cultural relativism as secular, anti-religious, academic drivel. The Christian Blue Meme opposes abortion but often supports the death penalty. At its worst, the Blue Meme becomes radical fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, patriotism, or Communism.

During the Enlightenment, three to four hundred years ago, alchemy and astrology evolved into chemistry and astronomy. The emergence of the Orange Meme initiated the scientific revolution, and with it the parallel emergence of self-interest. As rational science grew out of Church-imposed superstition, the Biblical God became more symbolic than literal. However, science could not disprove the existence of God, and many scientists, most notably Einstein, saw within the marvelous mystery of our universe the guiding hand of a divine intelligence. Recently, a few scientists have aligned themselves with a new form of creationism, termed Intelligent Design, that allows for a divine creator who initiated and who guides evolution. Still, the majority of atheists are found within the materialist flatland (no vertical, spiritual dimension to human life) of the Orange Meme. The Orange worldview is held by thirty percent of the world's population, but they maintain fifty percent of the political and economic power.

The weight of American culture is to be found within the transitional space between Blue and Orange. However, George W. Bush resides a half-step or more behind the majority of voters with his mixture of Red political control, Blue religious beliefs, and Orange economic policies, making him unique in the history of American presidents (who are typically a half-step or more ahead of the populace).

With the arrival of the Green Meme, about one hundred and fifty years ago, the first steps toward universal human rights emerged, exemplified by equal rights for women, gay rights, the civil rights movement, and various forms of socialism. The Green Meme at its best is concerned with nurturing and freeing the human spirit through communitarian, ecological, and egalitarian modes of being. Equal value is given to all cultural viewpoints. At this point on the Spiral, God may become Goddess, Gaia (planet Earth as a living entity), Christian mysticism, Kabbalistic Judaism, ecstatic Sufism, or a variety of other approaches that loosen the mythical constraints on the experience of God and allow that God may be an experiential rather than a physical reality. Green is represented by around ten percent of the population.

The Beige through Green Memes represent the first tier of human development. In the first tier, each Meme believes that it offers the only true interpretation of the world. For example, traditional Blue sees progressive Green as godless New Age heathens. Rational Orange sees both Blue and Green as irrational and too focused on other people's concerns. Self-concerned Red sees all other colors as threats to its power and seeks only to bolster its strength. Each of these Memes has built-in virus protection to prevent other Memes from corrupting its content. However, most people operate in several Memes, as shown in part one, even though they may have their center of gravity in a specific Meme.

One brief note is necessary here. Each of these Memes has a healthy and an unhealthy manifestation. For example, unhealthy Blue becomes fundamentalism and seeks to impose its narrow worldview on everyone. Unhealthy Orange can become scientism and seek to reduce all forms of experience to the physical. Unhealthy Green can become the "mean Green Meme," attacking most manifestations of Blue as repressive and rejecting some forms of Orange as reductionism. However, each Meme is crucial to the Spiral and a necessary stepping stone to the next stage. We must allow people to move through the Memes as is their need, while trying to create life conditions that allow for healthy manifestations of the Memes and opportunities to move up the Spiral.

Second Tier

The second tier of the Spiral includes the Yellow and Turquoise Memes, both of which are integrative and holistic in their worldviews. The second-tier Memes have access to the whole spiral and can adopt the first-tier Memes as needed according to current life conditions. A person who has reached second-tier thinking in one or more areas of life may still have other developmental streams that operate only in first-tier Memes. Less than one percent of the population on Earth has reached the second tier.

The Yellow Meme has appeared only in the last thirty to fifty years and is still taking shape. A person in the Yellow Meme is concerned with learning to live as an adaptive organism in a constantly changing world. Accumulating knowledge and understanding how various systems work and interrelate is a priority. The Yellow Meme understands that chaos and change are constants and seeks to establish and maintain equilibrium. At this stage, God tends to be conceptual and is often experienced as an impersonal, unified consciousness.

The Turquoise Meme is emerging right now, and its major traits are becoming more focused each day. However, it is becoming clear that Turquoise seeks a holistic existence in which body, mind, and soul are unified. The Turquoise Meme understands that everything is interrelated and interconnected. At this stage, the self is seen to be both independent and part of an interdependent, cooperative whole. God at this stage is understood much as Yellow understands the concept, but the Turquoise person might experience God as more compassionate and loving.

Despite the relative infancy of these Memes, it is clear that God at the second tier is seen as a consciousness permeating the entire universe that seeks to understand itself through its manifestation in creation. The jump to second-tier thinking is seen as the great leap in human consciousness. Crossing that divide marks the first approach to the higher realms of spiritual awareness as exemplified by the great spiritual teachers: Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Saint Francis, Saint Teresa, Zarathustra, and others.

For the one percent of the population that operates within the second tier, each Meme on the Spiral is valued for its contribution to the whole and is crucial to the health and stability of the Spiral. Although no one Meme is more important than another Meme, those higher on the Spiral offer greater options and are more expansive in their understanding of the world. The second tier is the leading edge of the Spiral at this point in history. For the first-tier Memes, those few individuals in the second tier are threats to their identity and autonomy. However, the gift of second-tier perception is an understanding of the entire Spiral and the ability to relate to people in the language of their own Meme, which makes second-tier people ideal leaders and unifiers. Don Beck, Ken Wilber, Sally Kempton, Gandhi, Teilhard de Chardin, Barbara Amrx Hubbard, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, and Desmond Tutu are examples of second-tier thinkers.

In part three of this series, I will look more closely at how these versions of God manifest in American politics and the current culture wars.

Go to Part Three.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Guest Post: Kira Freed

On the Road to Embodiment

I was on the ground in an instant, being dragged over dirt and rocks. My glasses flew off as my shoulder slammed into a fence. For a moment everything went black; then, as my mind began to clear, I assessed my condition. Just severe bruising and a few scratches on my chin--or so I thought, until I tried to stand and a searing pain shot through my left knee.

I had been volunteering at a stable where disabled children rode horses to gain confidence in their physical abilities. Early each Saturday morning, I cleaned stalls and turned out the horses not slated for use that day. I had been warned that the two Norwegian Fjord ponies were headstrong and difficult to handle, but I felt confident of my horse skills as I fastened Murphy's halter and led him outside. Nine months earlier I had been a caretaker on a farm with six horses, including Hank the Huge, a 2,500-pound draft horse. My confidence with Murphy, however, was ill-founded; immediately after clearing the door of the show ring, he bolted for a patch of grass. I had neither the power to restrain him nor the presence of mind to release the lead rope, not until my shoulder hit the fence and I reflexively opened my hand.

X-rays revealed a broken bone spur on the outside of my kneecap. Days later an orthopedic surgeon further diagnosed a crush injury that had destroyed some of my already sparse knee cartilage. He advised me to keep my knee immobile for several weeks and then begin physical therapy. However, he held out slim hopes for a smooth recovery. I began physical therapy, following every instruction to the letter and dedicating myself to my healing. When my knee failed to respond, surgery became the only option.

The surgeon moved my kneecap laterally, providing a new runway on which my knee could track. Recovery was slow. Four months later I still walked with a severe limp and serious pain. After seven months, when my healing plateaued, I continued to have limited mobility and considerable difficulty negotiating stairs. I was advised to permanently avoid carrying heavy loads, which made even simple tasks like grocery shopping and laundry a challenge. I became more fearful out in the world, especially at night since I would be unable to flee if accosted. I also became terrified of about falling because one more injury could mandate knee replacement surgery.

I began to absorb the fact that my recovery was not going to be complete. With that realization came a steady depression that I couldn't shake. How had my life come to this? I was only 47 years old, and I was a gimp. I had a disabled parking permit and an assist frame on my toilet. My formerly active life had been reduced to short, careful walks, frequent pain, and a constant need to coddle my knee. There were few moments when my knee was not center-stage in my awareness. I railed against my disability, yet was forced to face it by the many tasks I could not accomplish alone or at all. My precious self-sufficiency was gone, and all I saw in my future was a life of bleak limitation.

For decades I had drawn strength and comfort from my faith in Spirit, as both an overarching force and a tangible presence. Eight years earlier, my father had contracted a fatal infection as a result of medical carelessness. My weeks with him before his death left me no doubt that Spirit was present in every moment.

Even with my grounded faith in Spirit, in my pain I was hard-pressed to trust it after my knee injury. Still, every once in a while thoughts would flit through my mind: You'll get what you need. It won't always be this hard. Have faith.

In the midst of those desolate months, I volunteered to assist at the Body & Soul Conference in Seattle, an event featuring leaders in the holistic health and spiritual growth movement. The volunteer coordinator requested that I host a faculty member, helping with logistics and providing escort to and from sessions. I was assigned to Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician and best-selling author who counsels cancer patients and trains doctors to bring more soul and heart into their work.

All I knew about Rachel before attending her teaching sessions was that she worked with cancer patients and was chronically ill herself. I was entranced by her presentations and her quietly joyful, serene demeanor. She spoke of the need to focus on the mystery of life instead of the mastery of life, encouraging her audience to align with the deep currents of learning available in all of life's experiences, those both joyful and difficult.

Toward the end of the conference, she asked me to accompany her to her hotel room to collect her bags. Opening the door, I was relieved to see only a carry-on suitcase and a small leather bag, not the unwieldy mound of luggage I had feared (thinking of my knee). Just to make a bit of conversation, I said, "Boy, do you pack light. How convenient that must be."

She smiled and said lightly, “Actually, there's quite a lot of stuff in there. It's filled with my ostomy supplies.”

When I looked puzzled, she told me that she has been chronically ill for more than 45 years. The little case held the supplies for her ileostomy appliance, which she wears permanently since after eight major abdominal surgeries she no longer has most of her intestine.

My mind reeled. How could someone with such a serious physical problem feel such inner peace about it? No shame, no embarrassment, no sense of a limited life--just equanimity, a matter-of-fact acceptance of her life as it was.

Hours later, Rachel's ostomy comment still haunted me. As I replayed it in my mind, I flashed to the notion, common in our culture, that if anyone has suffered more than we have, we should just buck up and quit complaining. But I didn't think, "I have no right to complain about anything." We all have challenges in life, and we are all entitled to our authentic pain. In fact, navigating that pain with awareness eventually helps us find a healthy middle ground between victimhood and denial. It also supports us in finding a way to live beyond our disabilities.

What I did think, as I reflected with gratitude on my serendipitous meeting with Rachel, was that if she could learn to live graciously with the challenges life has handed her, perhaps I could, too.

Rachel's fine example pointed my life in a new direction. In the years since meeting her, I have learned that feeling sad about my decreased mobility doesn't have to push me into despair. I ask for help when necessary instead of clinging to my old Superwoman self-image. And, with Spirit's help, what once looked like a life of limitation is transforming into a life of slowing down enough to hear my own authentic voice.

Through my accident, Spirit was inviting me to become embodied. The determination required to perform daily exercises to regain knee function opened me to a new relationship with my body, eventually leading me to a series of personal trainers who taught me exercises to strengthen my leg muscles. I am still limited, still need to hold my knee in my daily awareness. But my accident forced me out of my fear and into a bigger world where I learned to distinguish between what I can and can't do about my situation. Nine months ago I moved to an upstairs apartment. I marvel every time I carry my laundry downstairs to the laundry room or take the stairs at a fluid pace with no hand on the rail. Even more, I marvel at the fortunate series of events that forced me out of victimhood and into a life of greater balance and equanimity.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sam Harris: Contemplative Science

I have been pretty hard on Sam from time to time, especially when he is advocating torture, advocating atheism, or advocating the destruction of all religions. However, Sam recently attended a silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society. For six days he did not speak.

Sam argues that such an event, which hosted mostly his fellow scientists, could be a landmark in the development of a new kind of science, a science based in contemplation. However, in keeping with his abhorrence of all forms of religion, he wants to strip away the Buddhism from Buddhist meditation.

On the surface, this isn't too far from what Ken Wilber argued for in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, as pointed out by tuff ghost in response to my post attempting to refute Harris's condemnation of all religions. Still, I feel Harris holds a flatland view of the world, completely lacking any verticality.

I am forced to wonder what might happen if Harris continues to meditate. How will he understand experiences of the psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual states of consciousness? Will he reduce the experiences to fluctuations in brain chemistry? For example:
As some of the retreatants discovered, when thoughts are seen to be mere phenomena arising and passing away in consciousness (along with sights, sounds, sensations, etc.), the feeling that there is a "self" who is the thinker of these thoughts can disappear. This experience of selflessness is interesting for two reasons: it makes perfect sense from a neurological perspective, as there is no privileged position for a self to occupy in the brain.
Harris has the exterior individual quadrant holding all the meaning for an interior individual quadrant experience. As he continues to meditate, will he attribute any sense of interior meaning he gains from such states (like selflessness) to wish fulfillment or some other Freudian reductionism? Or will it always be brain chemistry and neurons?

Unless he can move up a developmental ladder he does not believe in, all of his meditation experiences will necessarily be filtered through the Orange lens of flatland science.

If Wilber is correct in his admonition to "just meditate," maybe there is hope that Harris will grow beyond a flatland worldview and embrace the Great Chain of Being. He is a bright man with the potential to create great change. Let's hope he will one day use his powers for good.

Poem: T'ao Chi'en (365-427 CE)

[Image by Visual Paradox]

A green pine grows in eastern garden,
Dense underbrush obscures its beauty.
When a nipping frost ruins all other plants,
Its lofty branches emerge majestically.
Unnoticed among trees,
Standing alone, it becomes a wonder.
I take a pot of wine to hang on the wintry bough,
Then look afar, over and over again.
Life alternates between dreams and illusions,
Why should I tie myself to this worldly bondage?

[Translated by Wu-chi Liu, from Sunflower Splender]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


[This essay was written last year. I could not find it a home, so I am posting it here in several parts and cross-posting it at Raven's View.]

Toward an Integral Politics, Part One


Following the 2004 election cycle, the media focused its analysis of the outcome on the perceived religious and moral divide between Democrats and Republicans. Exit polls indicated that large numbers of evangelical Christians showed up at the polls to support candidates and ballot measures representing their moral stance. Democrats were judged to be out of touch with the moral tone of American voters, while Republicans repeatedly appealed to the conservative Christian wing of their party and to Catholics traditionally aligned with the Democrats.

Many conservatives reduced the complexities of that election to a battle between God-fearing Christians and godless secularists. In their minds, evangelical Christians won a battle for the right to set an agenda of "social reform" that would reintroduce God into the mainstream of American culture. The Christian right, especially its evangelical branch, now seeks to overturn more than one hundred years of efforts to separate Christian ideology from the legal and political life of America. Two of the highest ranking Republicans (Senator Bill Frist and Representative Tom Delay) have aligned themselves with groups that claim Democrats are waging a war on "people of faith" by blocking confirmation of ultra-conservative judges. Those judges who do not support the evangelical Christian cause are labeled "activist" and targeted for removal from the judiciary. Politicians who do not support the evangelical cause are targeted for ouster in the next election cycle. In a similar vein, liberals see conservative judges who wish to overturn decisions they feel violate originalist interpretations of the Constitution as activist and seek to block their confirmation to the bench.

However, poll after poll refutes the notion that American culture is split between those who believe in God and those who do not. According to a May 2004 Gallup poll, 90 percent of Americans believe in God, while only four percent say they do not believe. Clearly, the division is not between those who believe and those who do not. We should instead examine the differences in how believers define the idea of "God." The God of a Southern Baptist may bear little similarity to the God of a particle physicist, which may bear little resemblance to the God of a politically progressive environmentalist.

In a nation of 296 million people who have origins in many different countries and religious traditions, and who experience an enormous variation in life conditions, it should be expected that worldviews will vary greatly. Psychologist Clare Graves spent more than thirty years studying how people in this country, and many others, view their world. He analyzed the ways in which humans create shared values that instill meaning in a world that can seem threatening and chaotic. People seek to create order and stability through a shared understanding of their world, he surmised.

Two of Graves's closest associates, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, assembled his research into a system they named Spiral Dynamics® and then published a book by the same name (Blackwell Publishing, 1996). Spiral Dynamics is one of the most comprehensive explanations ever articulated for how people understand their world. The authors, who were instrumental in helping South Africa resolve racial issues as apartheid came to an end, have been consulted by many world leaders and organizations, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Vincente Fox, Nelson Mandela, and the World Bank (What Is Enlightenment?, Fall/Winter 2002, pg. 105-26).

The Spiral of Human Values

To explain each of the eight known worldviews identified in Graves's research, Beck and Cowan use the idea of the meme ( first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his seminal book, The Selfish Gene. A meme is a unit of cultural information that "contains behavioral information passed from one generation to the next, social artifacts, and value-laden symbols that glue together social systems" (Spiral Dynamics, 31). Memes tend to replicate themselves through cultural norms such as dress codes, language idioms, religious expressions, social movements, and political beliefs. Memes also have built-in virus protection to prevent other memes from corrupting their individual values. For example, the fear of going to hell is very effective virus protection built into the Christian meme (a surefire way to prevent its believers from wandering off into other belief systems.

Spiral Dynamics takes the basic idea of the meme and elevates it to the level of meta-meme, or Meme (the single capital is used here to denote meta-memes, rather than the all-caps MEME used in the book). A Meme is an organizing principle that pulls together a collection of similar memes into one coherent worldview. Graves identified eight major Memes in human cultures around the world, ranging from the basic survival Meme to the integrative global village Meme. Beck and Cowan, in order to not privilege one worldview over another, gave each of the Memes a color designation. The labels assigned to the various Memes alternate between warm colors (Memes focused on individual growth and achievement) and cool colors (Memes focused on group development and values) as human systems progress along the Spiral.

The following is an abbreviated explanation of the known Memes and their corresponding worldviews (based on Cowan).

First Tier:
BEIGE--survival; satisfaction of biological needs; reproduction
PURPLE--safety/security; protection from harm; family bonds
RED--power/action; assertion of self to dominate others; control
BLUE--stability/order; obedience to earn later reward; meaning
ORANGE--opportunity/success; competition to achieve results; influence
GREEN--harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness

Second Tier:
YELLOW--independence/self-worth; integration of living systems; knowing
TURQUOISE--global community/life force; survival of Earth; consciousness

The Spiral of Memes applies both to individuals and to cultures. As a human being develops, s/he will move through each of these Memes until reaching the age of 20 to 25 years. At this point, without effort or intervention, growth tends to cease and does not start up again until middle age. Whole cultures also move through these Memes, having to pass through and integrate each Meme before moving to the next. This hierarchal growth pattern for cultures is what dooms efforts at imposing democracy (a Blue/Orange system) on tribal cultures (often deeply Red), as for example in Iraq.

As one thinks about the Spiral, it's important to remember that each Meme represents a way of understanding the world. Each person or culture will exhibit a unique combination of two or more Memes based on specific life conditions and innate capabilities. For the sake of simplicity, it's possible to talk about a Blue person or a Green person, but no one person will ever be so simple that s/he can be identified with a single color designation.

For example, in the spiritual stream of development, a person (let's call him Bob) may make sense of his world through a Blue lens, attending church each week and seeking to obey the teachings of the Bible. Bob may have chosen a career on Wall Street and may spend each day trying to turn influence into cash through an Orange lens. Likewise, Bob may value an egalitarian partnership with his wife, living the relationship stream through a Green lens. Finally, Bob may have anger control issues in the emotional developmental stream that reflect a Red lens.

Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology recognizes as many as 24 developmental streams that manifest in different ways through each worldview of the Spiral. One of these may be identified as the "God-stream," for lack of a better term. At each point on the Spiral, the idea of God looks very different due to the influence of life conditions, social values, and other factors. These differing views of God, as will be seen in part three, are the source of much of the political and social conflict now so common in the American discourse. Part two will examine how each of the Memes understands the idea of God.

Got to Part Two.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

a note on being

[image source]

. . . whose song is sharpness,
twisted by wind

walking through and above,
vision gossips
with voice
of a river,
a liquid texture heavy
with whispers

crows dream
the yellow return of alders,
leaves hiding the shadow
of a face
waning with the moon

this forgotten source,
founded on ripples
from a stone’s flight
into the possible

in the fluid image
of forever,
by the naked river’s flow,
this instant

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fear of Death

[Image by Trevor Brown]

For most of us, there is no greater fear than the fear of death. It's difficult to believe that an easy acceptance of the possibility of death can help put joy in the life you are living, but it can--and will. The Sufis say, "Die before you die, and you shall never die." What they mean is ego death. If you are able to let go of ego then you will not be afraid because you will no longer feel incomplete; you will not cling to the material world and conditioned existence, or samsara. The ego can be likened to samsara's aorta.

If there is no ego, there is no one afraid of dying; there is absolute completeness and oneness. Death is a transformation, a passage, a transitional stage on the journey, but the ego sets up this finite little territory that it's afraid to lose. Why be afraid? Why assume that each of us began at birth and will end at death? We might find the possibility of rebirth surprising, but it's really no more surprising than being born at all. What a marvel to be alive at all, and who can explain it rationally, really?
Lama Surya Das, Awakening the Buddha Within

Sunday Poem: Attar

From The Jawhar Al-Dhat

The whole world is a marketplace for Love,
For naught that is, from Love remains remote.
The Eternal Wisdom made all things in Love.
On Love they all depend, to Love all turn.
The earth, the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars
The center of their orbit find in Love.
By Love are all bewildered, stupefied,
Intoxicated by the Wine of Love.

From each, Love demands a mystic silence.
What do all seek so earnestly? 'Tis Love.
Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts,
In Love no longer "Thou" and "I" exist,
For self has passed away in the Beloved.
Now will I draw aside the veil from Love,
And in the temple of mine inmost soul
Behold the Friend, Incomparable Love.
He who would know the secret of both worlds
Will find that the secret of them both is Love.

[Translated by James Fadiman and Robert Frager, in Essential Sufism.]

I came across this poet and poem purely by bibliomancy--in an effort to find the right poem for this morning. I was hoping to find a poem that might amplify yesterday's post on integral relationship, and this one seems to offer the mystic's view from the inside, the dissolving of ego into the Beloved. A fitting poem it seems.

From the Wikipedia entry on Attar:
Farid ad-Din Attar (Persian:فریدالدین عطار; ca. 1142 – ca. 1220) was born in eishapour, in the Iranian province of Khorasan, and died in the same city. Some scholars believe he was killed during the raid and destruction of his city by the Mongol invaders. His tomb is in Neishapour.

Attar is one of the most famous mystic poets of Iran. His works were the inspiration of Rumi and many other mystic poets. Attar, along with Sanaie were two of the greatest influences on Rumi in his Sufi views. Rumi has mentioned both of them with the highest esteem several times in his poetry. Rumi praises Attar as such:

"Attar roamed the seven cities of love -- We are still just in one alley."

Attar was a pen-name which he took for his occupation. Attar means herbalist, druggist and perfumist, and during his lifetime in Persia, much of medicine and drugs were based on herbs. Therefore, by profession he was similar to a modern-day town doctor and pharmacist.

He is one of the most prolific figures of Persian literature. He wrote over a hundred works of varying lengths from just a few pages to voluminous tomes. About thirty of his works have survived. His most well-known and popular work is Mantiq at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). His other popular works include Assrarnameh (The Book of Secrets) and Tadkhirat al-Awliya, (Biographies of the Saints) which contains biographies of many Sufi mystics. Generally speaking, most of his books are popular and relatively easy to read.

A brief story about how Attar began his life as a mystic suggests that he was visited one day in his pharmacy by a wandering fakir. The fakir was dirty and ragged-looking, so Attar, feeling uneasy about his safety and fearing the fakir might try to steal something, asked the man to leave his store. The fakir replied, "I have no difficulty with this," pointing to his ragged cloak, "to leave; but you, how are you, with all this, planning to leave!" Attar was shaken by the fakir's words and thought about them for many days. Finally, he decided he would sell his shop and join the followers of Shaykh Rukn al-Din Akkaf of the Kubraviyyah order. He then commenced upon a life of wandering and writing.

The quote from Rumi, cited above, refers to a work by Attar, called "The Seven Valleys of Love." It can be read at Iraj Bashiri's site on Attar (scroll all the way down).

From what I have read, Attar's experience of God is an experience of an all-embracing love, a complete and total dissolving of ego into the divine Beloved. This is the essence of mystical Islam as practiced by the Sufis--the idea of nonduality as Eros.

Attar online:
Explication of The Seven Valleys of Love
Sufi Poetry
Poet Seers