The following is the Introduction to a remarkable book by the late Syed Hasan Askarientitled “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”, published 1991. It is a journey of self-discovery, inner path, a spiritual quest within & through an inter-religious dimension inspired by a vision to revive the classical discourse on Soul. This blog is dedicated to the universal, spiritual humanist vision of Prof. Syed Hasan Askari & contains various reflections from this book which is presented in seven chapters. Each chapter is known as a “Mirror”, there are Seven Mirrors.
“You are now entering upon a path. As you continue your journey, you will come face to face with one mirror after another. The path and the mirrors are all inside you.
The images you see in each mirror are at times images of a discourse, at other times of one or another symbol. Sometimes a vision will open up before you. Sometimes a voice will be heard. All of it is an initiation into your own reality.
There are several straight discourses. Then there are stories. Both the discourses and the stories constitute one fabric. They intersect and interpret one another.
At times you may find certain things partly or even completely unintelligible, or vague and abstract. When you will return to them, they will gradually become transparent. You will experience an unbroken sense of inner perception even where you notice that the mirrors are veiled. You are a guest. There is an air of hospitality as you move from vision to vision.
It is now both your and my journey into the realm of the Soul. I request you to be cautious for the territory we now enter is totally different from our ordinary world. We shall be changing the habits of our thought and putting on new garments. You will notice the change in atmosphere as soon as you stand before the first mirror.
The journey begins in the name ofPlotinus. We were invited by him a long time ago to make this ascent. The words, Alone to Alone, are his, and they sum up his entire call.
It was a couple of years ago one night while going through The Enneads that I had the experience of seeing in a flash all the implications of the Discourse on Soul for human thought and civilization for centuries to come. I felt within myself a convergence of the thought of Plotinus and that of my theistic faith nurtured by a consistent inter-religious perspective. The present work grew quite spontaneously out of that intuition over the last two years (1989 – 1991), and after much thought I place it into your hands both in trembling and trust, and in hope that it may ignite in your soul the same longing and in your mind a fresh zeal to rethink your conceptions about humanity, world, and God.” Syed Hasan Askari
For stories & reflections from the book Alone to Alone please click on the following titles available on this blog:
Which mother’s milk did you abandon never tasting?
Even though you may be trapped and bound
By this world that has let you down
Where are those first footprints to be found?
Look not for them
In your earliest childhood days of this world
Let forgotten memories unfurl.
It was in March 1993 I put together the words as above. I was in my early twenties. It was a time of continued inner expansion. Many things were becoming clear on the direction my life may take. I was not only reading Plotinus (The Enneads) but also hearing my father, Hasan Askari, talk about the great mystic-philosopher, considered the father of Neo-Platonism, who is Soul through and through. I returned again and again to my father’s book “Alone to Alone” which had been published a few years earlier and new meanings came to light. The expansion I refer to was centred about one word, “Soul”: thatimpartible, invisible, indivisible companion of our self, both one and many at the same time.
I learned of Plotinus’s term for the Supreme, The One – The Good. I heard about his system which referred to “emanation”. That from The One, who is above all association, emanates The Intellectual Principle, from which comes The Universal Soul and then The Individual Soul. I heard about such terms as conjoint; association of Soul with Body, with Matter. One of the most beautiful things I recall, ever-fresh, was hearing Hasan speak of Plato; that it is not the Soul in Body, but rather it is the Body in Soul. This had a transforming effect upon my thinking, upon my spirituality. It resolved many issues on the relationship between Body and Soul. It opened new doors. And still we had not come yet to ourselves; all this was Soul entire, Soul un-embodied.
It is important I explain a little what I mean by “direction”. I do not mean any worldly direction of occupation or career, of planning one’s life academically or anything of that nature. “Direction” was for me an inner movement which would dictate the outer movements. I was already a student of my father’s work for many years. The beauty about his manner of teaching lay in that it was never forced. It was simply presented. We engaged in discussion deeply, or I observed him in dialogue with others. I observedhim all on his own. And despite many serious challenges in life I witnessed an unfailing dedication to both his work and his inner self-mastery, which was one and the same. It was at moments observing a great artist at work, sculpting, painting or reflecting.
To see his face light up at the dawn of some new idea or unravelling of some mystery was for me like watching a sun rise above the horizon. The faint advancing light that ushers in the arrival of the actual Sunrise. Ideas used to dawn upon him wherever and whatever he was doing. Either in conversation-encounter with others or all alone sitting in silence. Observing him I was certain of one thing, his mind was never far from the remembrance and praise of God. One of the greatest lessons I was taught by him was to seek the company of solitude. To seek out time for oneself during the course of the day, to think and reflect, to be still, to pray, to remember The Supreme. It was as if one could spend an entire life time in that silence. The days could have come and gone, the seasons passing as like rushing clouds overhead. The sun could have risen and set countless times, one wouldnever have known.
I developed the habit early on of waking up and being alone in silence with solitude. It was at one such moment I reached for pen paper and the poem “let forgotten memories unfurl” came about. A thought came to me. I put down the first two lines and it went from there. Ideas, images and ideas behind those images were my torch bearers, they guided me and I followed. Within those moments of the night I was seeking some understanding of soul, something, anything. To move from the discursive to the intuitive and spiritual. To lift the words of my teacher from the page and carry them upon my head as an offering for my Soul to pluck me on flight to some deeper understanding. As like an eagle or falcon plucks some morsel of food not forgetting to return to the “Hand” that released it. Talking and hearing about Soul from Hasan I came to notice the world about me more, the physicalworld, nature for example.
I reflected on the simple beauty of nature and started contemplating another moment within nature. One moment and yet a multitude of moments. The moment when a bud decides to flower, clouds releasing their shower. It was not that I was seeking an exact temporal timeline, that was not the goal. The goal became to ponder and reflect. To imagine oneself just being present at the very moment one particular bud decided to begin its flowering. It was as if the act of observing and flowering were one act but in different forms. To imagine that which called forth the bud to flower was the same which called one to notice it. Symbolically, one of the ways a flowering bud may be understood is akin to oureyes opening from a deep sleep.
The beauty of a bud is further increased when its petals have opened fully, reaching for the sun much like our own physical eyes more beautiful once open and light hits the optic nerve. Can one bear witness to any physical eye being beautiful in the dark? Whilst closed the beauty of our eyes is concealed, but would we deny, even when closed, that the very “Idea” of an eye is a beautiful thing. An “Idea” of beauty by which other beauties are seen, a hierarchy of Beauty, of Ideal Forms, intangible and immaterial. Now we may invoke the adage, “the eyes are the windows to the Soul”. Sometimes both acts, flowering and observing, are mirrors and the original is out of sight, at others one is the mirror and the other is the original standing before it. It all depends at which point within the hierarchy one is “standing” as Soul.
There also comes a point to turn the arrow of inquiry from nature to oneself, from outer to inner. To ask deeply, with meaning, with tears, with a yearning like never before, “why am I here?” Again it was not any conclusive answer I was searching. I was not seeking to unveil some crystal ball and peer in to it becoming so disoriented whereby I lost sight of the very thing that brought me to ponder the question. The power was in the question itself. The question was the guide and that I tried to keep intact.
In coming back to Soul, on this poem, another idea came to me. Namely, above our memory, a timeline from birth to the present moment. Above all the experiences, all relationships, above all these memories, tragic and joyous, above even our dreams, there is another memory. A more Ancient Memory, that of Soul. Embedded within that memory is a “Call”, a Command almost. A beckoning for the Soul to turn its gaze from looking down at what it has created, forgetting its priors and thus forgetting its own inner memory. A “Call” to become free of being infatuated by its own beauty and seek the home of that Light which shines within it. The Home of Beauty, that from which Beauty emanates. To look up, as it were, to its Source. Within the Islamic tradition there is a beautiful way of recalling this memory when The Quran reminds, “We are of God and unto God we return”. In other words one’s Soul is from God and unto God it returns. Quoting Hasan Askari from his 1995 speech on Spiritual Humanism, “our journey ultimately is from soul to God. Pure is your soul, purer is your approach to God”. https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/speech-hasan-askari-spiritual-humanism/
We already accept there is a memory in to which we are born. A memory we have no knowledge of as we are born. It is a memory presented to us as integral to our worldly identity, a pseudo-identity I would say, a garment, a covering. Memory upon memory which over time distances us from a far more Ancient Memory within the Soul having the potential to distance us from one another. Namely, in general terms, our collective identities of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, culture, language and religion. Within these collective memories there are indeed gems, hints, clues, great insights, much meaning. However, it depends on how such socio-historic memories are relayed to us. As complete and absolute or temporary and symbolic.
If we can accept, by example of such collective identities, the principle of a “memory” before our knowing of it, before our birth, then perhaps we may begin to explore another Memory above the ones presented to us here through our individual-collective lives and histories. Through story and art, through encounter and co-presence. Through Soul! Upon meeting another let us pay attention to their story for who knows what buds are beginning to flower and what forgotten memories are beginning to unfurl for both the speaker and listener.