Category Archives: sufism

Teaching Story: What do you really want?

Library, Melk Abbey (inspir. for Name of the Rose), Austria

A young man decided to move his family, his wife and two daughters, to a set of small rooms in a building in Isfahan. His family’s new home was located a short walk away from the Sufi school the young man wished to join.

The man had just finished his regular studies and now hoped to support his spiritual aspirations. A small dowry and his wife’s support were his only practical foundation. Yet, the young man did not decide to move until he had received a letter of assurance from the school, stating it could modestly employ him.

With this letter in hand, and his family moved in, the young man walked to the school, stepped into the stone doorway, and gently knocked. After a moment, the door opened to reveal a very old man. The old man held the door half way open.

“I have come from the district of Lake Urmia to apply to your school. I have this letter in support of a small stipend.”

The old man didn’t budge, and told him, “We’ve been expecting you. The Pir has requested I grant you a job only in the light of following these instructions.”

“I am humbled.” responded the young man.

The old man stepped into the archway and closed the door behind him. Standing face to face with the young man, he reached into his robe and pulled out a leather bound book.

“Your job is simple: come to the school every day at 11am and sweep the doorway and then sit here, the man pointed to a bench cut out of the archway’s support, and greet visitors. If the visitor is holding a book like the one I am about to loan to you, summon me with four knocks and admit them into the inner hallway. After prayers, come back and go around to the rear of the building and sweep the entrance to the rear doorway. There is a bench there too.”

The man held the book in front of him with both hands.

“Nobody enters the school through the rear door. People leave the school through the read door. When you are doing your job there, the extra courtesy is necessary as someone departs the school through the rear door, ‘God be thanked.’ At 1 in the afternoon, come back to the front, sweep the exterior entryway, and, spend the remainder of the hour sitting here on the bench and helping visitors.

Extending the book so that the young man could grasp it, the young man slowly brought the book into his possession.

“The book you have now is blank. On its pages you are to write your reason for hoping to join our school.”

Clutching the book, the young man bowed and lifting his head, told the old man,

“I will review my reasons and summon the single most excellent one and inscribe it on the first page of the book.”

The old man bowed, “I will see you tomorrow at 11 in the morning.”


The young man waited until the old man had gone back into the building and shut the door. He heard the snap of the latch, and turned and walked to his new home.

The next day, the young man began his new job, and, he also hoped, he had begun to transit a short term before his being admitted into the school. On his first day he admitted two young men. Nobody left through the back door. He went home at 2pm.

On the second day, he admitted no one, and no one left, but, at the very end of the day, the old man from whom he received the book, stepped out onto the front entryway just as the young man stood up from bench to go home.

After greeting the young man, the elder asked, “Have you entertained and inscribed your reasons for joining us?”

Thrilling to hear the question, the young man lifted his book and gently opened it to the first page, turned it around, and with a graceful thrust, supported it while showing the page to the old man.

The old man looked down, read what the young man had penned, looked up, and told the man,

“I am not the judge of reasons. Nevertheless, I know that there are more reasons than this single one. Please write down all the reasons and do not omit a single one.”

The young man heard this beseeching request and bowed, turned the book back around, and closed it and lowered it. Again, waiting until he heard the snap of the latch, he left and walked back home.

So it was began a long sequence of days. Every now and then he would admit a young man through the front door, and, much less frequently, he would greet a departing elderly man as he left the building through the rear doorway.

Late every evening, the young man would contemplate his reasons, and enter new ones into pages in the succession of pages of the book.

Every day, at the end of his work day, the old man would read the new entries and return the book to the young man, and always remark,

“Surely, you know of more reasons?”

At first, that there were more reasons surprised the young man. Soon enough, the young man came to both reason or conjure new reasons effortlessly.  He’d go to the school, do his job, let a few men in and honor the fewer old men departing, and, he’d end each day with his presentation and the old man’s, by now, ritual injunction.

The young man’s efforts to discover his additional reasons became more difficult as time wore on. Along with this, for the first time, that other young man were entering the school, and that each entrant carried their own book, began to test the young man’s resolve.


He persevered even as his nightly contemplations became woven with doubts. His biggest doubt was this: ‘where in this book full of reasons is the one reason?’

He wrote this down in the book. He followed it with a passage,

‘I have no more reasons. There are no more reasons.’

The next day, the fortieth since the young man had arrived for the first time at the front door of the school, the young man opened the front door for two young men, and, he honored a single very elderly old man departing from the rear door.

At the end of the day, the old man stepped out into the entryway and extended his hand with the palms faced upwards to receive the young man’s book. The young man set the open book on the old man’s palms. The old man lowered his head and read the three most recent passages.

Raising his head slowly, the old man waited for the young man to raise his eyes to meet his own. The old man’s palms, now empty. remained turn heavenward.

“Young man, would you please follow me?”

He opened the door. The young man, in a state of shock, stepped through the front doorway. Both men were in a small hallway. The old man opened the inner door. He swung the door to his chest and softly told the young man,

“On the other side of this door is a library. You will not have to search for the single half filled shelf. Please place your book on that shelf. Next, proceed to go through door at the very rear of the library.”

The young man calmed himself, took a deep breath, silently thanked God, and stepped through the inner doorway. He came into an immense illuminated room. To his left and right stood from floor to ceiling many tiered book shelves filled with books. The books were bound the same as his own book was bound. The young man slowly walked down the single aisle that ran between the library’s left and right book collections.

He walked almost to the end of the room and its shelves of books before he spotted on his right a low shelf. The shelf was partially filled with books, and below it was, apparently, the last empty shelf in the entire, immense library. He placed his book on the shelf. He turned in a complete circle to take in the entire library. Then he turned toward the second door, opposite the door he had come in through at the other end of the long aisle.

He walked up to the door, placed his right hand on the knob and turned it, opening the door. He stepped through the door and discovered he was standing in the rear doorway he knew so well. A young man reached out and gently held his right elbow.

“God be thanked.” The young man dropped his head, let his hand down, and bowed. He then sat down on the bench.

“There is only God to be thanked.” He told the seated young man. With that, the man walked back around the building toward the street. As he turned down the street to go home, he mused to himself, ‘This has been a day like no other.’

When he got to his house, he suddenly felt elated. Turning the door knob, he swing the door open. A very young girl he did not know greeted him,




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Interlude #3 World Behind A World

Diane Di Prima

Diane Di Prima

Former Lakewood Librarian Ken Warren turns pugnacious punk literary lion (Michael Heaton) It’s one with which you take up residence for an unforeseen period of time. It’s like a relationship with someone so much smarter and stranger than yourself you need to measure and weigh the pace and lengths of your visits.

It’s been three years since Warren left his post at Lakewood Public Library. He now lives near Lake Ontario, 15 miles east of Niagara Falls. He’s proud of his tenure at the library. He oversaw the $16 million dollar remake. But there’s something else of which he’s even more proud.

“The development of the collection,” he said over the phone recently. “That’s what makes it a temple of knowledge. It’s heaven sitting on top of Lakewood.”

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist

Four Legs of the Problem (S.Calhoun, 2015)

Follow the perfume, not the tracks. -Shams, ra, of Tabriz

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Interlude #1 Perfume

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Bardo, A (Stephen Calhoun, 2015)


Forgive & let go
open the head
free the heart

be wary of vengeance
a life for a death

if you can’t
see anyone entire
there’s no one

not even you
aha aha

death is a giving up
risen as having gone
to be

the theatre of art
the spirit of fact

what you don’t know
give into

what the mind thinks

(Vincent Ferrini, The Pleroma, 2008)
Kenneth Warren wrote the Introduction.


A young man had finished his schooling and thus was hanging around the house.

His mother told him, “It is exactly the right moment to figure out what you are going to do with your life.”

The young man nodded his head. He also decided to get out of the house and spend more time in the village and observe what was going on every day there–because he hoped he would discover a clue about what he was to do.

For most of the next month he did exactly this. Over those weeks he found himself gravitating to a healer, a specialist in the ills of the back and spine. He observed people barely able to make it through the front door because their pain was so bad. He observed people returning after their treatment too. He figured these were follow up visits. These people were apparently free of back pain.

One day he announced to his mother,

“I’m going to ask the good back doctor, Dr. Fine, if he will take me on as an apprentice.”

His mother turned to him and nodded.

The young man felt good about his decision. One morning he knocked on the door moments after he had observed Dr. Fine arrive for the day’s consultations and treatments. He asked the doctor if he might need an apprentice. The doctor thought for a long moment and replied:

“Yes, you can join me as a student. All you’ll be required to do is watch closely, and, hold all your questions until I come to feel you have spent enough time watching.”

The young man thought to himself, ‘Simple enough,’ and nodded, and told Dr. Fine,

“Thank you very much!”

Over the next several months, the young man arrived everyday at the same time, put on a white lab coat, and, dutifully watched Dr. Fine work with, and on, his patients. As his time being watchful grew, the young man’s list of questions began to shrink.

Then one day, a middle-aged gentlemen somehow dragged himself into the examination room in a terrible state and in pain so great it was hard to watch. But Dr. Fine took a history, had the man lie down and rest, and then sent him home after asking him to make an appointment for a week later.

The young man was surprised by this case. All the previous worst cases looked the same: Dr. Fine would take a history, do an examination, have the patient lie down and rest for an hour, and then he would give the patient a quarter of a pomegranate. He would direct the patient to eat a tenth of the pomegranate each morning. Finally he would schedule a follow up to take place three weeks after the ten day course.

The young man had been Dr. Fine’s watchful apprentice long enough to see how wonderfully effective the pomegranate cure was for the persons stricken with the most terrible back afflictions.

This case was different. At Dr. Fine’s request, this same patient came back three times, and, each time he was sent away without the curative pomegranate. Finally, on the fourth visit, Dr. Fine gave the man the usual course of pomegranate.

A month later this same patient strode through the door for his follow-up appointment. He declared himself ‘a new man,’ and Dr. Fine nodded his affirmation.

The young man bit his tongue. Still, when Dr. Fine closed up for the day, as both stood on the small front porch, the young man turned to Dr. Fine and put to the good doctor his very first question,

“I have to ask this question, for I am disturbed to observe you give your worst cases the pomegranate medicine on their first visit, yet this patient today was made to wait a month. Why?”

The doctor put his hand on the young man’s shoulder,

“You see, every case is actually different, and is unique in its own way. The patient today presented a very difficult case and, likewise, the treatment recognized this, for where many unique cases are resolved by the pomegranate and healing regimen, in this man’s case, his difficulties could only be resolved by time and pomegranates.

With this, Dr. Fine, nodded, turned in the direction of walk home, and departed for the day.

(Adapted from a cassette recording of a presentation of Idries Shah.)

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Happy New Year

no change

The Wave

There are things we can change and others not:
Let us accept what is our written fate.
In God’s Compassion we will find no spot;
And we should know that Being’s inmost sound Is sheer Beatitude.

And faith will wait; For faith means patience.
Happy is the man Who Mercy’s Mystery and way has found —
Who with his love and in his very core
Becomes a Wave that leads to Allah’s Shore.

-Frithjof Schuon

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Deeply 80th Birthday Abdullah Ibrahim

Advise: click on the start triangle above for your momentary soundtrack. Thank you.

I wrote this fifteen years ago.

For over forty years people all over the world have received and been touched by the artistry and music of Dr. Abdullah Ibrahim. Not to stop there, however; the multitude of musical gifts of the African tradition, and, more generally, the gifts of the deeply abiding traditions of peoples’ musics and arts, are vital harmonizing mediums for the sensitive souls of people. Many people allow the artistry of such providers of joyful nutrition to make an essential, sympathetic impression on their own life and creative work.

Here’s a curious thought. In the past year I have been reflecting upon and gathering impressions having to do with, first, my being subjected to experiential learning, and, secondly, coming to understand how it is framed as a modality of constructive transformation in the West.

What I was subjected to for several years was not Western, but it was presumably outfitted for me, the American. Then, under the tutelage and mentorship of Judith Buerkel (1996,) and soon enough, after gaining some knowledge and understanding of the field, I began to reckon with the overlap between applications, learnings, and the means given by, in effect, Western psychology, to understand what it is for a person to experientially learn.

For example, there is some overlap of western theory with this thought:

“Inspiration is a stream of wonder and bewilderment. Music should be healing, music should uplift the soul, music should inspire. The thought attached to things is a life power. In order to define it, it may be called a vibratory power. There is a thought attached to all things made either by an individual or the multitude, and that thought will give results accordingly. The influence put into things is according to the intensity of the feeling, as a note resounds according to the intensity with which you strike it. So it is according to the medium that you take in striking vibrations that the effect is made. In all things there is God, but the object is the instrument, and man is life itself. Into the object a person puts life. When a certain thing is made, it is at that time that life is put into it which goes on and on like breath in a body.” Pir Hazrat Inayat Khan

At the same time, for me, there is a very large non-overlapping area. Question: what has music meant for you?

Abdullah Ibrahim reached 80 today. One thing hasn’t changed over the years, A.I. remains 241 months older than me per the way the calendar differentiates the distinction. Otherwise, comparably, I am a child. When I think of Ibrahim I think secondly of his music, and, firstly of his several lessons. One lesson: everything is always completely at stake. 

(A sufi once, with nothing on his mind, was – without warning – struck at from behind. He turned and murmured, choking back the tears: “The man you hit has been dead for thirty years. He’s left this world!” The man who’d struck him said: “You talk a lot for someone who is dead! But talk’s not action – while you boast, you stray Further and further from the secret Way, And while a hair of you remains, your heart And Truth are still a hundred worlds apart.” Burn all you have, all that you thought and knew (Even your shroud must go; let that burn too); Then leap into the flames, and as you burn Your pride will falter, you’ll begin to learn. But keep one needle back and you will meet A hundred thieves who force you to retreat Think of that tiny needle which became The negligible cause of Jesus’ shame). As you approach this stage’s final veil, Kingdoms and wealth, substance and water fail; Withdraw into yourself, and one by one Give up the things you own – when this is done, Be still in selflessness and pass beyond All thoughts of good and evil; break this bond, And as it shatters you are worthy of Oblivion, the Nothingness of love.)

Lie down beside the flowing stream
and see Life passing by and know
That of the world’s transient nature
this one sign is enough for us

Hafez, r.a

It’s a very hard lesson.

Over on the nogutsnoglory blog I am celebrating the artistry and ongoing vitality of Abdullah Ibrahim with a series of posts, all of which are restorations of archival posts from the defunct Mantra Modes blog. Should you begin with the first post from today MAGIC EIGHTY and work your way through to the last post, you will end up at the gateway of the opportunity to engage Abdullah Ibrahim’s musical artistry. Of course, this is possible only if you haven’t already engaged his artistry. Everybody with a sensitive soul would do well to engage his artistry.

I’ve provided an initial opportunity at the head of this post. Dr. Ibrahim is arguably among the the deepest musicians that the continent of Africa has so far produced. (The continent of Africa has been producing sonically creative persons for tens of thousands of years. Music was likely born in the Kalahari.) His ongoing international career began in 1964. Happy fiftieth birthday too!

As he told me, in the olden times, in the African village, children of exceptional musical talent became healers.

Ah! Death! Life! Our communication is on a completely different level. See, if we talk about music (Ibrahim plays a few notes on the piano), we are dealing with the unseen. We are fortunate that in Africa we have old people who understand the dynamic of the unseen. We study with them. Music is dealing in the realm of the unseen. It is much deeper as people think when they “see us play some notes”. It is a deeply spiritual practice. But look at jazz musicians now, everything in modern society is misplaced. I mean you are interviewing me with a tape recorder. Now, that is misplaced – not that I want to put you down – but you are supposed to use other means of communication. In some ways this is stupid. It is the same with musicians, we are supposed to be entertainers, but in traditional societies we were priests. In any traditional societiy, anybody that shows musical implanation was immediately drafted into medicine. My great grandfather was a healer. He tought us everything about herbs, plants and flowers and what you are supposed to do wit them. We as musicians living in this modern urban society … All my family were religious practioners. They came from traditional practice and when the white people came they went into the church. I was the first one that became a musician and became muslim. It has all to do with healing and spiritual practices. (interview with Abdullah Ibrahim)


(2001) Abdullah Ibrahim, born in South Africa in 1934, remembering hearing traditional African songs, religious music and jazz as a child – all of which are reflected in his music. He received his first piano lessons in 1941 and became a professional musician in 1949 (Tuxedo Slickers, Willie Max Big Band). In 1959 he met alto saxophone player Kippi Moeketsi who convinced him to devote his life to music. He meets and soon marries South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin in 1965.

In 1962 the Dollar Brand Trio (with Johnny Gertze on bass, Makaya Ntshoko on drums) tours Europe. Duke Ellington listens in at Zurich’s Africana Club and sets a recording session for Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio. 1963/64 sees the trio at major European festivals, including TV shows and radio performances.

In 1965 Dollar Brand plays the Newport Jazz Festival followed by a first tour through the United States. In 1966 he leads the Duke Ellington Orchestra: ›I did five dates substituting for him. It was exciting, but very scary, I could hardly play.‹ Other than six months playing with the Elvin Jones Quartet Abdullah Ibrahim (who changed his name after his conversion to Islam in the late 1960s) has been a band leader ever since. 1968 sees a solo piano tour. From then on he has continuously playing concerts and clubs throughout the US, Europe and Japan with appearances at the major music festivals of the world (e.g. Montreux, North Sea, Berlin, Paris, Montreal etc.). A world traveller since 1962, Ibrahim went back to South Africa in the mid- 1970s but found conditions so oppressive that he went back to New York in 1976.

In 1988 Ibrahim wrote the award-winning sound track for the film ›Chocolat‹ (released on ENJ-50732 ›Mindif‹) which was followed by further endeavors in film music the latest being the sound track to ›No Fear, No Die‹ (TIP-888815 2).

An eloquent spokesman and deeply religious, Abdullah Ibrahim’s beliefs and experiences are reflected in his music. ›The recent changes in South Africa are of course very welcome, it has been so long in coming. We would like a total dismantling of apartheid and the adoption of a democratic non-racist society: it seems to be on the way.‹ In 1990, Ibrahim returned to South Africa to live there but keeps up his New York residence as well. Several tours took him around the globe featuring his groups and also doing much acclaimed solo piano recitals. 1997 saw the beginning of a duet cooperation with the dean of jazz drums, Max Roach.

Later projects (1997 and 1998) are of a large scale nature. Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder arranged Abdullah Ibrahim’s compositions for a 22 piece string orchestra (members of the Youth Orchestra of the European Community) for a CD recording and a Swiss Television SF-DRS production and also for the full size Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra again for CD production and for concert performances featuring the Abdullah Ibrahim Trio.

The world premiere of the symphonic piece was at the renowned Herkules Saal in Munich, Germany on January 18th 1998, under the direction of Barbara Yahr and the Zuricher Kammerorchester premiered the string orchestra version at Zurich’s Tonhalle in February 1998. The string orchestra version was released in September 1998 (›African Suite‹, TIP-8888322) and met widest critical acclaim from the worlds of both jazz and classical music. The symphonic version (›African Symphony‹) has been released in 2001 in a double CD set which also features Abdullah Ibrahim with the NDR Big Band giving the full scope of his large format music.

Another highlight was the premiere of ›Cape Town Traveller‹, a multimedia produc- tion at the Leipzig music festival in 1999. A one hour performance featured A.I. and the Ekaya Sextet, a vocal group, filmmaterial from the early days in South Africa and the European years, electronic sounds ranging from impressionism to drum and bass – a great experience. One of the newest albums is ›Revesited‹ (TIP-88888362), recorded live in Cape Town. The piano of A.I. is featured with Marcus McLaurine (b) and Georg Gray (dr) and added is the fiery trumpet of South African Feya Faku on several tracks.

A great honor has been bestowed on Abdullah Ibrahim when the renowned Greham College in London invited him to give several lectures and concerts (beginning in October 2000 at Canary Wharf). Among his predecessors at the famed institution which looks back at a history of 500 years are John Cage, Luciano Berio, Xenakis. (from the press kit for Abdullah Ibrahim, A Struggle for Love, A film by Ciro Cappellari)

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Relishing the Friend


The Exo God, S.Calhoun 2014

Rumi: “ The cup wants to be lifted and used, not broken but carried carefully to the next. The cup knows there is a state for you beyond this one that comes with more vast awareness. The cup looks still but acts in secret to help. Sometimes you pour cup to cup, nothing happens. Pour instead into your deep ocean self, without calculation. If eyesight blurs, use a railing to follow.”

So another way that we limit ourselves or contain ourselves, is through being useful. It’s another way that we keep our rim dry, to take a utilitarian view of the spiritual life, when what we’re really trying to do is way beyond any kind of usefulness in the ordinary sense of the word. So Bhante talks about this in ‘Wisdom Beyond Words’ as the greater mandala. And it’s really, I means it’s just pure genius this chapter on the greater mandala which some people don’t know about, I think. So if you’re interested do look that up.

So he talks about this greater mandala, and he says that the Bodhisattva operates within this greater mandala. It’s a mandala of relishing, of enjoying, of taking delight, it’s a mandala of aesthetic appreciation.

Vajradarshini: “Kavyasiddhi what are you doing today?”

Kavyasiddhi: “Well Vajradarshini I’m mainly just relishing people, taking delight, and enjoying what arises, within that I will be, you know, earning money, washing my clothes, having a run, but that’s by the by really.”

excerpted from the excellent essay, We Have A Huge Barrel of Wine But No Cups  by Vajradarshini Audio Available at:

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Eyes Have It

Rumi quatrain

O dear friend, I am bound to you through friendship.

Wherever you may step, I am the ground for you.

In the creed of loverhood it is never allowed

That I should see the world through you and not see you.

I am joyous, because I am free from worldly joy.

I am drunk, because even though I don’t drink wine, I am elated.

I don’t have a need to be concerned about anyone else’s state.

May this secret glory [continue to] be a blessing for me.

May the heart of love never gaze at this base world!

What is there to gaze upon except Love?

I will reject my eyes on the day of my death

If they forsake love due to gazing at this life.

How long will I [need to] experience colors and smells from the world of time?

It’s time for me to meet that one of exquisite character.

When I look at him, I’ll see my own image.

And when I look at myself, I’ll see his image.

Translation by Rawan Farhadi and Ibraham Gamard (src)

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Relativizing, Dancing Around Synthesis


Paul Kugler came up in a conversation about the problem incurred by supporters of Analytical Psychology as those same supporters age without, in effect and in actuality, having created a socio-cultural succession plan. This leads to a mild synchronicity when I search for Kugler’s ideas and run across very resonant materials; and I mean here personally resonant.


[Paul Kugler tells:] The story is set in a medieval village where the villagers are seated during meetings according to their social rank. The person who holds the highest rank rakes the highest seat. One day the villagers are gathering and the prime minister is setting in his seat when a beggar wanders into the village and takes the seat just above hem. He is, of course, very disturbed by this, and asks the beggar just “ who do think you are to take that seat? Do you think you are the prime minister?” The beggar thinks for a few minutes, and says “No”. So the prime minister asks, “Well, do you think you are the king to take that seat?” The beggar thinks again for a few minutes and replies again “No”. So the prime minister asks “Well then, do you thing you are the prophet to take that seat?” The beggar looked at him and replied, “No.” This time the prime minister asked if he thought he was God to sit there. And again the beggar replied “No.” At this point the prime minister was very upset and he exclaimed “But nothing sits above God”, to which the beggar replied. “Yes, and that nothing I am.”

Sufi meeting

(Note: Nothingness is equivalent to Non-duality.)

Here’s the larger context of the story, excerpted from the full interview.

Editor: What do you mean by ontological?

Kugler: One’s functioning definition of reality. If you change your working definition of reality you run the risk of precipitating a psychotic reaction. Psychosis, as you know, is a disturbance of reality. Psychotic episodes are often accompanied by religious conversions. I have known clinical cases where the patient has undergone multiple conversions during a single episode. Because of the profound psychic disturbances associated with shifts in our belief systems., the bedrock or our personality. Jung was very apprehensive about Westerners taking on Eastern belief systems. When you take on those patterns of thought, you alter your definition or reality

Editor: There is an experience that precedes the verbalization. An experience that is without verbal labels. I think that in attempts to construct that experience verbally, what’s happening is we are finding that the Eastern constructions fit the experience better than the Western constructions, although I think they’re the same. The experience is fundamental, the origin. The Eastern set of symbols, set of concepts, are a better expressions of experience.

Kugler: How do you determine what is “better”?

Editor: It’s the sense of a good fit. I have an experience of lucid dreaming, alright? This is an experiential reality. There’s a verbal element to it: I know I am dreaming, and that it is verbal. It’s quite verbal. It’s a sentence that is said in the dream. But, there’s an experience without verbal labels that is pervasive, deep, profound.

Kugler: I have a sense of what you are referring to, but I have a lot of questions as to how you are going to escape the bias imposed on our understanding by language. The nature of the relation between lived experience and its representations is very complicated. The representational level has a significant influence on how we construct and speak about “reality”. For example, in the nineteenth century the linguistic metaphors and narrative structures we used to construct our discourse were quite different from today. The master narratives of the past century were influenced by the Victorian novel, on the one hand, and the Newtonian fantasy of cause and effect on the other. Much of science is still modeled on these master narratives: begin with a problem or crime, casually follow the clues backward in time through a series of ups and downs in the plot, the parapetia, until you find the cause of the problem or the person “who done it”.

Hunt: Freud’s case histories?

Kugler: Yes, Freud’s case histories. This master narrative dominated 19th and early 20th century literature and science. And in some areas it still is in use today. At the turn of the century James Joyce, almost single handedly, introduced a new form of the novel and with it came a new master narrative. In writing Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses, he created a novel that could not be read only once. The problem with the Victorian novel was once you know “who done it” the plot was not so engaging. Joyce constructed a novel in which the clues given at the end only made sense at the beginning during the second and third readings.

Editor: A good movie’s that way.

Kugler: Also, Joyce plays so extensively with the polysemic quality of language through endless puns, that every time you reread the text there are shifts in the meaning of the novel. The construction of the narrative is not casual, nor does it have a singular meaning of definite perspective. Joyce was beginning to develop what we now recognize as the post-modern novel. In the post-modern novel the narrative line is not characterized so much by causal connections and plot developments, as it is by ontological shifts. For example, the structure of a post-modern novel might be something like this: As the story goes, you are having dinner with Harry Hunt and Paul Kugler, interviewing them for a journal article. The interview focuses on dreams, question of lucidity, self-relativity, the problems associated with Westerners taking on Eastern belief systems and so on. Part way through the interview you suddenly realize that you are actually dreaming and that your interview with Dr. Kugler on lucidity in dreams is itself only a dream. At this point in the dream you are asked by Kugler the following questions: What will happen to your dream people, the little people as Jung called them, if through your meditation practices you succeed in emptying your dreams of all content? What will happen to this dream content? What will happen to this interview? You suddenly awaken, confused and uncertain as to whether you actually interviewed Kugler of whether it was only a dream. As you struggle with this question you suddenly realize that you are still dreaming…

Now, this type of narrative construction is characteristic of the post-modern novel. Ray Federman’s Double or Nothing and Two Fold Vibration are wonderful examples of this style of composition. The self-reflexive structure with its continuous ontological shifts is very different from the Victorian with its causal structure, stable meaning and singular reality. In many ways the post-modern novel is similar to Japanese movies with their de-emphasis on plot and subtle concern with differentiating the various levels of reality.

As we become more aware of the problems of ontology and the difficulties involved in differentiating levels of reality, we see a greater similarity between our lived experience and the philosophical narratives of the East. Whether we understand the lived experience of the Easterner is another question. There are many ground principles in the Eastern systems of thought that are alien to the Western mind.

Kugler: We, for example, tend to ground our systems of thought on something while the East tends to ground its belief systems on nothing. The idea of using “nothingness” as a first principle is extremely difficult for many Westerners to grasp.

There’s a wonderful Sufi story that plays with the tension between the primacy of a known god-term and nothingness. The story is set in a medieval village where the villagers are seated during meetings according to their social rank. The person who holds the highest rank rakes the highest seat. One day the villagers are gathering and the prime minister is setting in his seat when a beggar wanders into the village and takes the seat just above hem. He is, of course, very disturbed by this, and asks the beggar just “ who do think you are to take that seat? Do you think you are the prime minister?” The beggar thinks for a few minutes, and says “No”. So the prime minister asks, “Well, do you think you are the king to take that seat?” The beggar thinks again for a few minutes and replies again for a few minutes and replies. “No”. So the prime minister asks “Well then, do you thing you are the prophet to take that seat?” The beggar looked at him and replied, “No.” This time the prime minister asked if he thought he was God to sit there. And again the beggar replied “No.” At this point the prime minister was very upset and he exclaimed “But nothing sits above God”, to which the beggar replied. “Yes, and that nothing I am.”

Editor: I love it.

Kugler: it’s a very complicated ending because you can sense how language catches us up in its internal tension between referentiality and significance.

Hunt: In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition I think they’re quite eager, at least now, to press on people the term openness for emptiness or nothing. In other words, if it has a referential sense, it’s a kind of openness. It’s the space that’s filled by structure. The difference, perhaps, between the Eastern relativism and the Western relativism in that in that oscillation between open possibility and the structure that are given birth to the Eastern oscillation would have you end up on the side of the bare awareness.

Kugler: The Eastern relativity ends up with the unknown, while Western relativity ends up with the known.

Hunt: So playing with structure, with the accent on structure, rather than the accent on detachment. Although both are necessary.

Kugler: I’ll tell you two stories which illustrate my point. The first story reflects more of the modernist attitude, which we might call the Western attitude towards relativity. And the second is closer to the post-modern and Buddhist attitude. The first story Jung was very fond of telling as an illustration of his concept of the Self. The story illustrates the function of a transcendental meaning (ref. morning lecture) in relation to relativity. The story is found in the 18th Book of the Koran and begins with Moses meeting Khidr (The “Green One”) in the desert. The two wander together for a while and Khidr expresses his fear Moses will not be able to witness his deeds without judgment and indignation. Khidr tells Moses that if he cannot trust and bear with him, then Khidr will have to leave him. Moses agrees.

After a short time they come upon a poor fishing village where Khidr sinks the fishing boats of the villagers. Moses is upset seeing this, but remembers his promise and says nothing. A short time later they arrive at a decaying house of two pious young men, just outside the wall of the city of non-believers. Khidr goes up to the city wall which is falling down and repairs the wall, rather than the house of the two believers. Again Moses is disturbed by Khidr’s actions, but says nothing. The story continues in this fashion until finally Moses sees something so intolerable that he can no longer hold back from making a comment. This causes Khidr to leave. But, before his departure, Khidr explains why he acted as he did. In the first instance, pirates were on their way to steal the fisherman’s boats and by sinking them, Khidr actually saved the boats from being stolen. In the second instance, by rebuilding the wall of the city of non-believers, Khidr actually saved the two young men from ruin, because their life fortune was hidden under the city wall and about to be revealed and stolen. As Khidr left, Moses realized that his moral judgement and indignation had been too hasty and that Khidr’s actions, which at first he interpreted as bad, were in fact, not.

The second story I would characterize as a narrative representing the Post-modern problematic. It’s an old Taoist story about a farmer who has a son and a horse. One day, the farmer goes outside to find that his only horse has run away. It’s a small town and the neighbors hear about it and come to visit that evening and tell him what a terrible thing it is that happened. The farmer listens to them, thinks for a while, and responds, “I don’t know.” The next week the horse runs up into the mountains and takes up with a herd of thirty wild horses. After running with them for a few weeks, the farmer’s horse leads the wild horses back to the corral. The farmer goes out and finds he now has thirty-one horses and closes the gate. Word gets out and the neighbors come to see him that evening and tell him how wonderful this is. The farmer thinks for a long time and says “I don’t know”. The following day his only son goes out to tame the wild horse. He climbs on the first horse and is thrown breaking his leg, so he can’t work. The neighbors hear about this and come over to the house that evening and tell him what a terrible thing this is. The farmer thinks for a while and responds “I don’t know”. The next day the country breaks out in a war and the man in charge of draft inscription arrives to draft the son to the front line where he probably will be killed. He finds he has a broken leg and tells him he does not have to go to war. And the neighbors hear about this and come over that night and tell the farmer how wonderful it is that his son does not have to go to war. And the farmer responds “ I don’t know”.

Both stories relativize through recontextualization, but where they differ is that the first story has a personification (Khidr) who “knows” the future, while in the second story there is only “not knowing”. There is only the farmer who questions the neighbors’ tendency to fix a specific interpretation to an event. The two stories present very different ways of relativizing.

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Hey brother, why do you want me to talk?

Hey brother, why do you want me to talk?
Talk and talk and the real things get lost.

Talk and talk and things get out of hand.
Why not stop talking and think?

If you meet someone good, listen a little, speak;
If you meet someone bad, clench up like a fist.

Talking with a wise man is a great reward.
Talking with a fool? A waste.

Kabir says: A pot makes noise if it’s half full,
But fill it to the brim – no sound.


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Sufi Begonia


Nasruddin sometimes took people for trips in his boat.One day a fussy pedagogue hired him to ferry him across a very wide river.

As soon as they were afloat the scholar asked whether it was going to be rough.

“We’ll see.” said Nasruddin.

“Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar.

“No,” said the Mulla.

“In that case, half your life has been wasted.”

The Mulla said nothing.

Soon a terrible storm blew up. The Mulla’s shall0w boat was filling with water.

He leaned over towards his companion.

“Have you ever learnt to swim?”

“No,” said the pedant.

“In that case, schoolmaster, ALL your life is lost, for we are sinking.”

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A Yellow Rose
A Yellow Rose – 2013
S. Calhoun; from a photograph

Do you know a word that doesn’t refer to something? Have you ever picked and held a rose from R O S E ? You say the NAME. Now try to find the reality it names. Look at the moon in the sky, not the one in the lake. If you want to be free of your obsession with words and beautiful lettering, make one stroke down. There’s no self, no characteristics, but a bright center where you have the knowledge the Prophets have, without books or interpreter.

When you are with everyone but me, you’re with no one. When you are with no one but me, you’re with everyone. Instead of being so bound up with everyone, be everyone! When you become that many, you’re nothing. Empty.

Rumi, ra

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Teaching Cartoon: Treasure


 “We saw with certainty that it is love (which is) hidden,

So we became bared because of such as this (which is) hidden.”

Rumi, Q.1612, tr. Gamard & Farhadi


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To Speak With Solomon

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Attar: What Is Not the Mystic

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Teaching Cartoon: Bart’s Lesson


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One Reason

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Rumi: Flutes and Peas

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Found: Coleman Barks

Poet Coleman Barks

Several weeks ago I went searching on the net for Coleman Barks. Barks, a poet, is most well known for his versions of Rumi. In fact, to the extent Rumi is known by the English-speaking world, a lion’s share of the credit accrues to Mr. Barks and to his colleague and co-author John Moyne.

Having done this same search years ago, I knew there are numerous resources and media, but, one such resource at the CBC had been taken down, an interview with Barks and Andrew Harvey by Mary Hynes (as part of Ms. Hynes’ Tapestry Series.) I made an inquiry.

Lo and behold a few days later a nice gentleman from the CBC emailed me and asked if I would be interested in providing an introduction for this archival podcast. I jumped at the opportunity to help bring the interview back into circulation.

The podcast at the CBC is back, and listed here. (Direct download-mp3)

Coleman Barks interview at Lapham’s Quarterly. (mp3)

Video at Poetry Everywhere (PBS)


The Big Red Book is the newest exploration of Rumi by Coleman Barks. It focuses on Rumi’s relationship with Shams of Tabriz. One of the aphorisms of Shams is a touchstone for me:

Follow the perfume, not the tracks.

The following video provides a beguiling introduction to Rumi and Shams.

Jalaluddin El-Rumi & Shams El Tabriz from Raphael Rousseau Sason on Vimeo.

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Teaching Story: Every Which Way the Wind Blows

Nasruddin Backwards

Mullah Nasruddin was a digging a grave in the cemetery when from afar he saw the sand blowing in the distant desert. His imagination got the better of him and he thought it was a band of brigands. In fear for his life he jumped into the half dug grave site.

In the distance a group of honest merchants were returning home from a profitable business. They saw the strange site of a Mullah in his long flowing robe jumping into a grave. So they went to the cemetery to find out what was going on.

They got to the grave and saw Nasruddin shivering in fright. They asked him, “Mullah, what are you doing there?”

By now the Mullah understood his mistake and was relieved that these were not the thieves he had imagined. The Mullah got out of the grave and said, “It all depends on the way you look at it. I’m here because you’re here and you’re here because I’m here.”

Source: Nasrudin-stories blog

(When I first presented this tale on Transformative Tools I titled it Downward Causation.

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The impossibility of education

Once, the villagers invited Mulla Nasruddin to deliver a lecture on spiritual matters.

When he got on the pulpit, he found the audience was not very enthusiastic, so he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?”

The audience replied “No”, so he announced “I have no desire to speak to people who don’t even know what I will be talking about” and he left.

The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day.

Once again he asked the same question – “Do you know what I am going to say?”

This time when he asked the same question, the people replied “Yes” So Mullah Nasruddin said, “Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won’t waste any more of your time” and he left.

Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mullah to speak the following week.

Once again he asked the same question – “Do you know what I am going to say?”

Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered “Yes” while the other half replied “No”. So Mullah Nasruddin said “The half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the other half” and he left!

(Carried over from Transformative Tools blog; part of the process of transitioning its content to squareONE explorations.

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