The Syncretic Spirit

Know that the truth is found in every religion and is current in every tongue. What you should do, however, is to take best and to transfer yourself to it. Do not ever occupy yourself with imputing defects to the religions of people; rather try to see whether your religion is free from them.”  –  The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity

When one seeks only the truth and engages with the wide range of religious experience in the world, one can hardly fail to see a grand unity. Prior to encountering either the Brethren of Purity or the Din I Ilahi, I had formulated for myself a similar position which I dubbed “Syncretic Existential Mysticism”.  The goal was to produce a very high-level theology which would provide a framework by which all religions of the world could be judged and within which those truly valuable offerings interpreted and their precious sentiments enjoyed.

But slowly, I found that our ancestors had not infrequently committed themselves to similar projects.  There is great inspiration to be had in them, and therefore, I present the following to the reader as an example of that insight which is generated by this practice.  Let the reflections of a superbly honest and learned scholar encourage you in your studies, for this is the fruit which grows from that holy labor of religion.

“God is great;” this is the patent of the Ilahí faith…in all transactions, they may endeavor to deserve the divine favor, by their usages and pious practices; and that, humbly suppliant in the court of God, without partial complacence to themselves and to others, they may execute the law in their proceed­ings.

I could write endlessly in praise of the material I am about to introduce.  Hardly any summary could suffice in place of its readership, so I beseech you to read at a minimum Chapter 10 of the Dabistan and Book 5 of the Ain I Akbari without my mediation.

A man is the disciple of his own reason. If it has naturally a good lustre, it becomes itself his director, and if it gains it under the direction of a higher mind, it is still a guide.

And, as is made abundantly clear, that forceful and beautiful passage of the Koran remains at the forefront of those considerations necessary to religious pursuit:

No compulsion is there in religion.  –  The Holy Koran

For insofar as it is valuable, religion is the Mindful veneration of Mind, accomplished only by that natural, spontaneous autonomy itself.

In these sources is such a wellspring of divine inspiration and wisdom that it can hardly be discussed respectfully in any brevity.  But let it be known: from the Dabistan and the Ain I Akbari (written by the illustrious Abul Fazl Allami), one can read of the most excellent conclusions reached by Akbar the Great.  It is the fruit of a great religious scholar’s decades of labor, and in it one finds a wonderful confidence.

There is a marvelous sense of kinship when one happens upon those same thoughts and considerations borne of one’s own existence in the words of another.  Through this body have passed those same sentiments, and in another it witnesses the greatest evidence that the same force of Mind steers all creation; that one’s brothers and sisters are so in spirit.  In a decade of seeking, I have come across no other single person whose treasury of wisdom so thoroughly held those most precious stores I had gathered of my own.  As my eyes passed over the choicest of contents, I could hardly restrain myself from racing to the next fruit, that I might confirm upon its inspection even further the windfall which I had happened upon.  Such confidence of faith is inspired in my heart by these words, though I cannot here present them justly, I must point to them and urge that you consider their worth.

There exists a bond between the Creator and the creature which is not expressible in language.

Being that all virtue can be understood in reference to one simple injunction of autonomy, that one’s purposes be adopted autonomously and one’s actions guided by that incomparable holy power is the sole commandment of life, it can be known that from this ground grows every virtue.  It is from this ineffable connection to divinity which mankind knows as freedom of will that the righteous life proceeds.  From this ground, made apparent to every creature as an undeniable matter of experience and existence itself, flowers religion, and the faithful forever tend the garden.

Whosoever habituates himself to preserve this sacred relation, will be withheld from it by no other occupation.

Those principles understood as virtues are known by simple deduction; if beneficent, aiding in the growth and exercise of autonomy, who can deny that it is virtue?  In any way that the holy flow of autonomy is abetted, be it in an individual body caring for itself or others so that the will of God may be done through them all, it is clear that this is God’s doing.

The heart of a just man is the heart of the all-just God

So those principles which are most useful to finite and rational beings of thought are those which most concisely and elegantly capture the guidance offered by wisdom to the entirety of human life.  Though all may be inferred from that one injunction of autonomy, this can be an interesting and trying process, and so it is most beneficial to compose for oneself a map of principles which one may follow more easily in reflection and action.

To begin with a nameless philosopher’s formulation of the main tenets of the Din I Ilahi, therefore, is to introduce it well:

  1. liberality and beneficence
  2. for­bearance from bad actions and repulsion of anger with mildness
  3. abstinence from worldly desires
  4. care of freedom from the bonds of the worldly existence and violence, as well as accu­mulating precious stores for the future real and perpetual world
  5. piety, wisdom, and devo­tion, with frequent meditations on the conse­quences of actions
  6. strength of dexterous pru­dence in the desire of sublime actions
  7. soft voice, gentle words, and pleasing speeches for every body
  8. good society with brothers, so that their will may have the precedence to our own
  9. a perfect alienation from the creatures, and a perfect attachment to the supreme Being
  10. purification of the soul by the yearning after God the all-just, and the union with the merciful Lord, in such a manner that, as long as the soul dwells in the body, it may think itself one with him and long to join him, until the hour of separation from the body arrives.

These principles are expounded upon to glorious degree, avoiding all manner of stereotypical or obvious error in the texts to which I have directed readers above.  In them one finds a wealth of wisdom which draws one’s attention to God and the union of the righteous with the divine source of creation.

None except God, the all-mighty, is the wish of the godly man, that is, whatever the godly undertakes, the object of his wish in it is God; for instance, he takes some food, that he may be able to perform the service of God; performs that service, that he may not be slack and deficient in his duties to God; desires a wife, that he may give existence to a virtuous son, worshipper of God; pays veneration to the lights of the stars, because they are near God the all-just; and abandons him­self to sleep, that his soul may ascend to the upper world. Finally, the godly man is at all times in the service and obedience of the all-just, and at no moment is he negligent in pious practices.

It is a beautiful summary of one’s adherence to that sole injunction placed at the feet of every creature by the all-just creator, but to take my heart even further:

Moreover, he thinks himself bound to abstain from hurting living beings, and he respects all the creatures of God. He does not cut grass and green trees without necessity, nor pollute the ground wantonly…he dwells with veneration upon the image of the lord of fires (the sun), until he had carried this exercise so far that, by merely covering his eyes, the great object is present to him; then, whichever of the illustrious and mighty personages of Hind, or Iran, or Greece, or any other place, he wishes to see, that person presents himself to his view, and he sees lights, explores many ways, and makes himself master of the temporary and the eternal. The lord vicar of the all-just is called Ilahí, “divine,” by his followers, because in all their actions the object of their wishes is God; and the lord has received the divine mission to establish the worship of the stars, which are to be the Kiblah of the pious. In the ancient books of the Hindus and Parsis, without num­ber, the excellence of the constellations is affirmed.

Finally, I have found a man who had not only reached the foundation of religious knowledge (an act in which he by no means stands alone), but with seemingly unparalleled excellence sought and tended to those flowers growing in that common ground; together, these words are a colourful bounty to behold.

He ought not to oppose the creed and religion of the creatures of God: inasmuch as a wise man chooses not his loss in the affairs of this perishable world, how in those of religion, which is permanent and eter­nal, should he knowingly tend to his perdition? If God be with his faith, then thou thyself carriest on controversy and opposition against God; and if God fails him, and he unknowingly takes the wrong way, then he proves to himself a rule of erroneous profession, which demands pity and assistance, not enmity or contradiction. Those who act and think well, bear friendship to every sect.

In these few records we possess of his thoughts, I find confirmation of my dearest of beliefs.  I find a genuine, original, rational voice which brings forth in me such an upwelling of happiness that no words seem adequate for its conveyance.

And whatever the understanding does not com­prise within the extent of reason, the truth of this remains hidden; and to assent thereto is silliness; because the doctrine of other wise men may be of a higher value than the tradition or the book of that prophet. Besides, if the maxim were incul­cated that prophets must be right, any body who chose could set up the pretension of being one; as silly men will always be found to follow him, saying: ‘His reason is superior to ours, which is not equal to such things.’ Hence have arisen among the Muselmans and other nations so many creeds and doctrines, as well as practices without number.

To have such depth of faith, asserting so clearly its mystic presence in the lives of creatures, and yet to grasp so forcefully the role of reason in its consummation is a rarity in my experience.  Nearly every great work has seemed at the minimum ever so slightly lacking, and here, I find so little want for more that I balk at its further consideration.

For, in the interior of our soul resides the true agent, the unparallelled God, and raises tumul­tuous strife for the sake of provoking the investiga­tion of truth.

What more must I add to this great faith?

The legend of Satan is an old-world notion. Who has the power to oppose the will of God?

Even the insight that there is no substantive evil force, but rather, the absence of God’s guidance is the sole cause of “evil” is captured herein.  The command of virtue is opposed only by its absence, and as such, Ilahists are instructed to do no more than be as the wise, forged by the will of God, shall be:

They are enjoined to venerate those who are distinguished by devotion to the incomparable God; to take the habit of vigilance in the morning and evening, and particularly at midnight; and at all times, when they are free from the affairs of God’s creatures, to occupy themselves with perusing the books of the masters of purity and sanctity, and the books of moral philosophy, which is the medi­cine of spirituality and the essence of all sciences…so that having attained the highest degree of religious knowledge, they may not be liable to be moved from their station by the fictions of the masters of deceit and falsehood; as in this state of dependence the best sort of worship is, after all, the most important concern of creatures

Though I have found what seems penultimate, I am spurred onwards in my studies thereby!  Truly, there can be no surer sign of excellence.  And yet, bearing this great fruit, the tree is never proud, and the forest is exalted thereby:

Acknowledging that the bounty of the incomprehensible God embraces all religions, let us entirely devote ourselves to the culture of flowers in the rose garden of the perpetual spring of peace, and unceasingly attend to the Nas eb ul âyín, “establishment of the thing itself,” as to the study of promoting one’s happiness; as the Almighty God, opening the door of his bounty to the different reli­gions* in their various means of salvation, maintains them; so, in imitation of him, it is incumbent on the powerful Kings, who are the shades of divine providence, never to desist from this rule, because the Creator of the universe confided to them this vast population for the sake of directing the state of the apparent world, and of watching over all mankind, not without preserving the good name of exalted families.

To be an Ilahist, to adhere to the instruction taking the name of the Din I Ilahi, is to do no more than be the constant student of God with that force of Mind provided thereby.  To simply live as one is made by one’s Creator, to embody that truly Hebrew sense of righteousness, is to accomplish that injunction of autonomy.

All that is left is to see to the accomplishments of Mind.  Life, free of confusion, focused upon that radiant Over-Soul of God, brings about a beautiful harmony.  These bodies, viceroys of God, freely contribute of their abilities.

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4 Responses to The Syncretic Spirit

  1. Erik Elvgren says:

    It should not be surprising, given your views, how many of these statements have a direct parallel in the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. “None except God, the all-mighty, is the wish of the godly man” sounds like “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) and (Col. 3:2 – “Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth”) There are many obvious other parallels but one thing I don’t seem to be understanding on your view.
    Can you explain more about #10? “purification of the soul by the yearning after God the all-just, and the union with the merciful Lord, in such a manner that, as long as the soul dwells in the body, it may think itself one with him and long to join him, until the hour of separation from the body arrives.”
    This seems to be something like what Christians would call sanctification. The traditional understanding being that sanctification is a process over one’s life where someone becomes a better person through seeking God, spiritual disciplines, etc… It is not the same thing as “justification” where one has sins forgiven. Do you combine these concepts into one? Or do you see no need for any justification? You wrote: “the absence of God’s guidance is the sole cause of “evil”” Your concept of evil then seems to follow the Augustinian idea that evil is actually a privation of the good rather than a force of its own. similar to how a shadow is an absence of light. Augustine came to the conclusion though that even if evil is a privation of good, it still was incompatible with a perfect God and thus we still had need for both justification and sanctification. How does this work out on your view?

    • I agree: the parallels are important and numerous.

      I haven’t (yet) studied Augustine thoroughly enough, but my initial hypothesis is that I agree roughly with Augustine on the point about privation of goodness. Being that Augustine derives a lot of his views from his studies of Neoplatonism, and I find myself in agreement with them on many matters, it is likely we are in rough agreement here. I don’t know about his conclusion regarding justification which you summarize, though. I know Augustine and I will probably disagree regarding the nature of the soul, and my position might resolve whatever “incompatibility” he noticed between the privation of Good and a perfect God. If he is arguing, for example, that individuals are incompatible with God on account of their lacking in perfection, thereby requiring a sacrificial justification, my view on the unreality of individuals, so to speak, sidesteps that issue entirely.

      Fundamentally to my religious beliefs, I do not hold that sacrifice (in the sense of other living creatures, Jesus included) is necessary for justification, and it seems from the Bible that we have strong evidence that this conclusion was drawn before my time. Proverbs 21:3 is ready in my mind regarding this conclusion, and it gets at the crux of religion (virtue), it seems to me. The Prophets speak out against the idea that the practice of animal sacrifice is necessary (e.g. Jeremiah 7:21, Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1:11…) or even permissible (Isaiah 66:3, perhaps) and before them, there were Psalms such as Psalm 40:6 and 51:16 which are quite straightforward. Many discoveries surprised me greatly when I read the Tanakh and the Gospel, but one of the greatest surprises is the seeming plethora of evidence against the modern Christian grain in this regard. I don’t believe that Jesus was a redeeming sacrifice for our sins, nor do I think it’s necessary. The Prophets discuss at great length and in many places the fact that sacrifice is not necessary to please God, but that it was a reminder and a symbol of righteousness when conducted rightly. Even the Gospel itself does away with the idea in Mark 12:33 where it is established in line with Jesus’ assessment of the greatest commandment that to love one’s God and neighbor is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus himself echoed Hosea 6:6 and told the scribes to go and learn what it means, and such passages have convinced me that Jesus did not think of himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind in the way he is often regarded today.

      So that’s my position on sacrifice and justification. In my estimation, the only justification demanded of every creature is sanctification by a righteous and pious life. It’s no surprise that I disagree strongly with Paul and Pauline Christianity, and I place my faith instead in Ezekiel who said that we had been given hearts of flesh that we may follow the Law and live, and that God demands not perfection, but a constant turning from sin. I think this is a reasonable synopsis of my position on this very important matter.

  2. Erik Elvgren says:

    There is a consistent theme to all the sacrifice related verses you mentioned that sheds light on to how they can be true and yet co-exist with the mountain of verses that also promote this concept of sacrifice as something God mandates. All your verses basically assert that God desires obedience more than sacrifice and even more strongly asserts that the sacrifice of a person who has not turned from their evil ways are worthless. So rather than doing wrong and then trying to apologize God prefers us to do good in the first place. Seems quite reasonable. But people are going to do wrong and that has consequences both for this world and in terms of our alignment with God. Of course, this notion of sacrifice was not only commanded by God in numerous places dealing with ceremony, but also is clearly worked out in things like the passover account and the bronze serpent (both of which provide serious Jesus foreshadowing and provide context for when Jesus is called the “lamb of God.”). Of course not all sacrifices were for atonement of sins. And, as I am sure that you know, not all offerings involved killing animals either (Gen. 8:20). But verses like Psalm 51:19, Lev. 5:10 & 4:35 are fairly straight forward, My concern is that you seem to be ignoring a lot of verses, or taking them out of context in order to support this larger idea of the irrelevance and even possible illegality of sacrifice. That is like taking Jeremiah 7:16 as an injunction against prayer in general. You think Ezekiel doesn’t support the concept of sacrifice? He was Jewish and respected the Levitical law where it was mandated so it isn’t surprising to find verses in Ezekiel that also mention atonement sacrifice(43:20-24),
    You can take the OT writings to mean a lot of things if you take them out of context and ignore other verses…but is that being faithful to the intent? I know you dismiss Paul in the NT. And aside from the obvious problems that brings with it in terms of his association with other apostles who accepted him and his teaching, it really isn’t even necessary to use him to make the larger point. John 3:17 (gospel of John) is pretty straight forward as is 1 John 2:2 (“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world”). So maybe we should throw out one of the gospels too and 1John? How about Acts:Chapter 2:38 (Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)? So something about Jesus there has to do with atonement and that is Peter the disciple. How about Matthew? 1:21 (She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.) Maybe ignore that too? Luke 9:20-22 is also pretty clear on the identity of Jesus and the suffering he had to endure for being “the Christ.”
    So, as I said, there are a great deal of parallels to your view found in Christianity, especially in the sort of daily taking up your cross attitude of humbly seeking God in all things, but I don’t think we can pretend that your view is merely in disagreement with “Pauline Christianity.” The person of Jesus is a stumbling block. John 14:6 is really clear on the “biblical view.”
    I struggle with your view because I agree on so many points with it but it seems to just come up a little short of the larger picture I embrace.

    • You know, I’ve been meaning to write a good article defining my position regarding Pauline Christianity for some time, and this seems just the right time to do it. I’ll link to it so this conversation can be moved over there once I’m done.

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