The Grand Canyon

By Hasan Askari from his book “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”

As he stood before the Grand Canyon, he was told by one of the guides that he was facing two billion years of rock. “Two billion years and one minute”, he said. The guide looked perplexed. “That one minute just included us standing right before the canyon”, he explained. But a voice older than the canyon seemed to reach him, saying: “You are not recalling another minute before the canyon was formed”. He remembered then he was more ancient than the Grand Canyon.

Within a split second or even less he was standing before the house of Porphyry in distant Sicily. It was late afternoon in one of the last years of the third century. As he approached the house, he could see Marcella, Porphyry’s wife, sitting in one of the windows looking towards the small pathway he was climbing to reach the house. She waved her hand. It looked like a white bird rising a little from the branch of a tree and settling down again. She opened the door, and with her usual calm led him into the house. She was holding a file of papers. As she sat down, she said, “Porphyry is in Rome one some business. He will be back within a couple of weeks. This is his letter. I think I should share it with you.” She handed over the letter to him. He started reading while she got up to prepare something for him to eat.

As he started reading the letter, he knew with tears in his heart that though there were several knowers, knowledge was one: “If we were just a body, one in Sicily and another in Rome, you are far away from me, and I very much yearn to return as soon as possible. But I know, as you also know, that we are more than a body, and therefore I am with you and you are with me”.

Marcella sat down after passing on to him a plate with some bread and cheese. “Are you alright?” she asked. He looked at her wondering how much she was aware of his distress, of his wanderings, of his sorrow. “I should tell you something, my friend”, she spoke with affection, “you will be on this earth again a few hundred years hence, and after many years of quest you will fall in love with the teaching of Porphyry’s Master”. He waited. She continued: “Philosophy and Prophecy will unite once again. But you must not waste that opportunity.”

She appeared then as the High Priestess of the second card of Tarot. “Do not concern yourself with how I appear to you,” she had already read his mind, “Let me tell you that you appear sometimes as the Magician, the Hanged Man, and the Fool all at once.” He could not control his tears. She took his hands and held them gently and her eyes were on the ground. A strange light shone on her face. The sun was setting on the sea. A cool breeze was blowing.

He asked, “What will be that time upon the earth?” She did not reply.

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The Dialogical Relationship between Christianity and Islam

By Professor Hasan Askari (published 1972 Journal of Ecumenical Stidies)

“It is sometimes easier to reflect with the aid of poetic metaphors, particularly when one has to tread the difficult space between two massive traditions. Where the conceptual finds the door solidly barred against all entry, the symbolic carves its way in. Where the theologian is confident within his boundaries, the poet takes the risk and leaps beyond. Rumi, the Persian Sufi poet, once said: 

“O for a friend to know the sign, And mingle all his soul with mine.”

“With the help of these two line, let us reflect on the “friend,” the “sign,” and the mingling of “all his soul with mine.” Is there any common sign between Christians and Muslims? Would they become friends? And would their souls mingle?”

“There are certain difficulties in the way. Dialogue is sometimes misunderstood by Muslims as a masked attempt at syncretism. The suspicion is not always without basis. The Muslim immediately becomes self-conscious of the differences that lie between Christianity and Islam. He often fails to notice the deep and vast changes the Christian faith, in its interpretation and expression, has been undergoing in almost every century. The notion of an evolving and expanding faith is somehow alien to the Muslim mind. It is however strange that evolution is often considered as betrayal and perversion of the original dogma. Herein lies, I suppose, that most serious disparity between the Christian and Muslim attitudes to questions of faith. Secondly, the political experience of Christianity, recently in the form of imperialism, hampers on both sides the openness and trust necessary for an informal encounter. Thirdly, the cultural experience of Christianity, particularly in the shape of science and technology, is usually looked upon as a threat to Islamic civilization. The Christian-Western influence is held responsible for secularization of culture and institutions. The intermingling of academic and religious traditions by Muslims is another aggravating factor. One often comes across an intriguing mixture of fantasy with fact, inquiry with apology. It appears that, more than the primary and fundamental differences in the dogmatic frame, the differences in historical experience and cultural development are responsible for incommunication and mistrust among Christians and Muslims.” 

“But equally grave are certain features in the Christian situation. Many a complex issue owe their origin to the scientific traditions as well. The speech of religion is being determined after the model of the speech of science. The process of secularization has already taken command paving the way for the priority of “word of man’ over “Word of God.” Above all, the entire theory of communication on which most of the theologians and philosophers rely is a historicist theory through and through. We are told that the first revolution in communication was brought about by scientific invention and mechanical engineering, and the heroes of this revolution were Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. At the heels of this revolution came another, the consequence of the theory of cybernetics headed by Norbert Wiener and Dichter. It was the discovery of the unity of communication and control. All communication to the giant computers seems to take place in an imperative mood. Wiener is afraid that this process might be reversed with immense consequences for the human civilization: The process of from man to machine might soon become from machine to man. A corrective against the cybernetic threat becomes imperative. The foundations of a third revolution have to be explored.”

Continue reading at http://www.sierraf.org/articles/Askarieh.pdf

From Interreligious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism

By Professor Hasan Askari

“I have always looked at religious diversity with a sense of wonder. The differences between religious beliefs and practices have never bothered me, nor have their conflicting truth-claims unnerved me. I was mystified by the fact of diversity itself. But the call to tolerate and coexist with the other in mutual respect, however desirable, was not enough for me. The intuition underlying the ancient saying, “the lamps are many but the light is one,” gently led me on to look for a theological affirmation and validation of more than one religion. What was lingering in the depths of my soul came to the surface of my consciousness sometime in the mid-1970s when I clearly realised that transcendental reality could not be equated with any one religious form; otherwise a religion will become a god and that would be utter blasphemy. The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable. Hence, there should be room between the religions for mutual critique and complementarity. In turn, this should generate a religious need for religious plurality and diversity.”

“Each religious form should then express the beauty and the splendour, and the transcendence and the mystery, of the Supreme One in terms of its own language and culture, framed in its own historicity and reflected in the vision of its pioneers. To enter into dialogue is to celebrate the splendour of the infinitely Supremely Good, in the unity and diversity of our faiths. By the theological affirmation of religious diversity, our coming together in dialogue becomes akin to an act of worship; our exclusive witness is transformed into co-witness; our one-way mission is replaced by mutual mission.”

Continue reading at InterReligious Insight http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html

“The Master’s Ring” by Musa Askari

By Musa Askari (penned 1991)

There were a group of travellers who strived to understand the nature of their “Self” by taking a path leading them to the innermost repose of their “Being”. Having attained the knowledge of seeing with “transparency” they were victorious over the fictitious presence, that “Alien” identity as Plotinus refers, which had sought to entrance them. Having arrived at this state of rest they were aware of being not only human, but also Soul-Beings. They had already forsaken the outter for the inner mode of gnosis and now eager to cross the threshold of the inner too.

For some of the group a “word” was enough to ascend to this bliss. For others the “Fatiha*” would suffice. For most the recital of the Remembrance of their Lord was a beginning. Such was the nature of the fellowship.

Whenever they gathered for meditation their Master would choose one to recite the Fatiha before entry in to Zikr* (remembrance). There was a novice among them. A frail old man on the verge of leaving this world. He had been with them many years. In all his years of service and devotion he had never been chosen to recite. In the beginning he did not expect to be asked and bowed his head when the moment arose. However, as the months and years passed this became increasingly the sole source of his concern and wonderment. Strangely, as a mark of his greater inner calm as opposed to his outter curiosity, he never once questioned or raised the matter with his Master. He waited patiently for understanding.

The night before his departure the old devotee was presented, by his Master, a ring with a cracked and chipped stone. That night he dreamt and it was revealed to him, through sign and symbol, how the stone came to be chipped (that itself a journey all its own). During the dream he passed away peacefully. The next morning his body was discovered and on his right hand was the Master’s Ring perfectly returned to its original form.

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*Fatiha. The short opening chapter of the Quran, beginning, In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds. An indispensable part of daily worship (salat).

*Zikr. Quranic in origin, meaning remembrance of God, along with fikr which is intellectual contemplation of the signs of God. In Sufi usage, it means a particular mode of remembrance, the recital of a Divine Name imparted to the novice for guidance and enlightenment.

*Soul-Beings. Term coined by Hasan Askari

The Snow, The Cloud, And The River

By Hasan Askari from his book  “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”

We were driving through the Rockies. We had left Aspen behind and were climbing towards the Independence Pass. The atmosphere was clear, bright and pure. “In autumn aspen trees turn gold”, I heard my companion thinking aloud. A quick succession of seasons passed before my eyes, and I touched within me that still point around which all movements seemed to revolve.

We were now climbing higher and higher, and behind me the mountain range I could see one particular snow-clad peak, sometimes visible, then hidden, and visible again. It seemed like the glimpse of my true self – sublime, restful and serene.

All mountain peaks, something said to me then from within, are in constant communication all around the planet.

As we looked to our right we could see down below a few hundred feet deep a shining stream creeping through the valley like a silver snake. There was snow on the slopes and on the mountain tops, and clouds over them in still-slow journeying. The snow was sad, and complained to the passing cloud: “Look, Friend! I am imprisoned here, stuck to these rocks. Lift me up, and allow me to be your companion.”

The cloud replied: “Listen: The river from down below in the valley is trying to say something to you.” A sorrowful voice rose from the depths of the valley: “Lift me up. O Dear Snow, and join me with your eternal rest. I am tired of flowing endlessly.”

The snow looked with blank eyes towards the passing cloud which was now low enough to touch the snow gently and move on. The cloud said: “Do not be anxious. Our Being is one, though our stations and states are different.”

(*for more on Hasan Askari see: above tabs: “Hasan Askari” “Human Nature” & “Speech – Spiritual Humanism)