An Invitation to Peace

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To The Totality Of Mankind

[He who saves one man
saves the world entire.

- Koran, 5:32; Talmud ] 

1. What Peace?

The question of peace remains the foremost issue on the agenda of the world. In spite of the recent encouraging rapprochement between the superpowers, we still remain very far from an effective, global peace. The following items will suffice to give some notion, however faint, of where the situation stands.
1. The death toll of the Second World War, the greatest war in human history, was 50 million human beings. On the other hand, in the period of pseudo-”peace” we have been living through since the Second World War, the number of dead in regional wars, border conflicts, terrorist activities and the like has exceeded 100 million.
2. Taking the total destructive power of World War II as a yardstick, a single Trident submarine is scheduled to carry the equivalent of 25 World War IIs, while the world’s nuclear arsenal adds up to 6000 World War IIs.
3. Setting aside all other armaments in the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union and concentrating only on (normal and thermo-) nuclear weapons, each of these nations has a stockpile of about ten gigatons in its possession (or an actual gross yield equivalent to twenty billion tons of TNT). We are, therefore, sitting on top of one million six hundred thousand nuclear bombs of the size delivered on Hiroshima. To put it another way, a four-ton share of TNT falls to every last man, woman and child on earth. This means, further, that even if these two countries were both to abolish 99.9% of their respective stockpiles, there would still be enough left over for 1600 Hiroshima bombs – more than enough to destroy not only each other, but any number of other countries they might choose to as well.
4. All the nations of Europe are in hot pursuit of “the Bomb”, and the capabilities of almost all of them are more than equal to the task. A conflict arising in sensitive areas such as the Middle East and Israel is likely to mushroom into nuclear warfare and a rapid escalation that would engulf the entire world in its flames. (Israel
is estimated to have about 100 nuclear weapons in its stockpile.) Besides countries such as China, Britain, France and India which are definitely known to possess the Bomb, countries such as Pakistan and South Africa are suspected of having produced it. Experts fear that even terrorist organizations might – by clandestine means – construct or otherwise procure nuclear weapons.
5. Due to a confusion of birds appearing on radar screens with ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) and errors of a similar ilk, the world has come to the brink of annihilation many times to date.
6. According to the recent findings of scientists, even if we were to ignore all the rest of the devastation wrought by a thermonuclear war, the smoke and dust raised by the mushroom clouds would bring about a “nuclear winter” on Earth, and hundreds of millions of survivors would starve or freeze to death. And yet, this is only one among the many dreadful effects of an all-out – or even a small - thermonuclear war.
7. Global arms expenditures are measured in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars per year. A considerable portion of this money comes from the Third World, which is poor enough to start with. A small fraction of the sums spent on arms would suffice to eradicate hunger in many a poor country. The above items – to which we have confined ourselves for reasons of space – do not, however, really begin to take the measure of the global Arms Race. The situation is far graver than any impression the above facts might convey, so that the optimism of a person in these matters is almost invariably a direct measure of his ignorance. The indescribable horror of a thermonuclear holocaust vastly exceeds the capacity of the mere human imagination to deal with it, and lies totally beyond the powers of description of any human language.

2. All Men Are Brothers

No matter how serious the differences, there is one thing all human beings should never forget: We are all the great-grandchildren of Adam and Eve. All men are united by their common ancestry in the First Man and Woman and in this respect, we are all equal – each of us having been inspired with the Divine Breath, not merely of life, but of humanity. Yes, human beings of different races, languages, nationalities, etc. have emerged later on, due to geographical circumstances, differences of land, culture and the like. But these are all human beings. They are all our cousins, our brothers and sisters. Wherever on earth you go, you will find none with three eyes, four legs or five hearts. Indeed, even in the case of rare genetic disorders, no difficulty whatever is encountered in identifying these anomalies as homo sapiens. Unfortunately, due to superficial differences stemming from any number of reasons, human beings have become enemies of one another. All men are brethren; yet, since they are unable to see this fact, they remain sworn enemies. Such cruelty is brought to bear that man flees the wrath of man in mass emigrations, which may follow upon forced deportation, seeking refuge elsewhere – both domestically (as in the case of Russia) and between nations (such as the exodus from Bulgaria to Turkey or from East Germany to the west).

3. Stone Age or Space Age?

In our day mankind has, in terms of science and technology, ascended to unheard-of and, until quite recently, unimaginable heights. Human beings have set foot on the moon, and are preparing to visit Mars and the other planets. In medicine, intensive research is being conducted so that even the most invincible diseases may be vanquished. Was man more advanced in the Stone Age, or is he more advanced today, in the Space Age? In terms of science, technology, and medicine, the answer is unquestionably that we are more advanced today. But if we view matters from a different aspect, we shall see that human beings have not progressed at all. Scientists and historians calculate that out of the last 5400 years, only in a hundred has the world seen peace. In peaceability, therefore; in ethics and in all things that make man human, there has been very little progress indeed. The creature who ascends to the skies in planes and spacecraft is but a clean-shaven, necktied version of Stone-Age Man. Furthermore, the caveman was at least redeemed by the fact that he did not possess the possibility to destroy his fellow-men and the rest of the world. Viewing things from this perspective, we realize that we have, in relative terms, actually regressed, back beyond even the Stone Age. The technical proficiency of human beings many times exceeds the wisdom, the moral and ethical level, required to ensure their proper use of that technology.

4. Sun, Water, Soil

If we consider our life on Earth, we note that nature does not distinguish between human beings in bestowing her gifts. The borders men have arbitrarily defined between nations, as well as the artificial barriers they erect within these borders, are invisible from the sky and remain totally irrelevant to the natural elements on which mankind depends for its existence. The sun shines on everyone, drawing no distinctions between people. Water gives life regardless of race, language or religion. The soil presents its bounties to all people of every imaginable kind, whether young or old, good or bad, rich or poor. Herein lies a lesson for human beings. If the sun, the water and the soil do not discriminate between men, from where, precisely, do we fancy that we have received the right to do so? As in life, so also in death, the natural elements of the Earth will bind us inextricably together. Wind and water will carry the radioactive fallout from even a small nuclear skirmish between a couple of minor nations far beyond the borders of the two. In 1986, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in Russia were registered as far away as Canada, the U.S. and Japan. Even a single nuclear weapon, however, would contaminate a much greater area than the worst conceivable accident to a nuclear reactor. We must resolve our differences and take the requisite measures for a durable peace in the shortest possible time. For if the “Doomsday Machine” – constructed by mankind with such a vast outlay of money and labor – once begins to operate, not only human life but perhaps all life will be wiped off the planet. Before the Megadeath Machine begins to roll, before the Holocaust of Hell, we must destroy this monster before it is too late.

5. Brave New World

Although its arrival has not been officially announced or celebrated with fanfare, we have at long last to realize that ever since 1945, when the first nuclear bomb was exploded, we have been living in a totally new – or, more precisely, Brave New – World. In a sense, the End has already begun. Hiroshima constitutes the most important turning point in human history and prehistory. It would be much more appropriate to discard the present calendar and start a new one, with 6 August 1945 as Year (and Ground) Zero. At this writing, as of 44 A.H. (After Hiroshima), we are already a long way into the Era of Doomsday. We must never forget that the First World War was triggered by the assassination of a minor European nobleman by a nobody. We have not the slightest assurance that history will not repeat itself. Any spark can ignite a chain reaction, a maelstrom that will inexorably suck in one nation after another until none is left. The Arms of Inferno warn us: “As long as we exist, even the least of the wars you wage among yourselves imperils you all.” And again, they say: “If you cannot control yourselves, destroy us; or else we will destroy you.” This is the mutual message not only of nuclear, but of all Toxic Weapons (whether Nuclear, Biological or Chemical). Until we do so, not a single person on Earth can be safe.

6. Water For Fire

Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by tolerance, by compassion and, ultimately, by love. We cannot extinguish fire with fire; to put out fire, water is required. Water, more than anything else, is what mankind needs today: The Water of Life, the Water of Peace. For if we cannot survive, the meaning of all other needs will be negated.

7. In One Book Unite

The heart, the marrow, of all religions is love. History both ancient and modern testifies to the fact that only by religions have human beings been motivated to civilized behavior. Those who castigate religion for crimes committed in its name should search elsewhere for the real culprit: It is not religion but man’s diabolical ego that commands him to do such things. The purpose of religion is, rather, to inhibit these drives. Science and technology cannot, and have not been able to, achieve this: they do not even address the question. By this time, such a dense cloud of ignorance and obfuscation surrounds the subject of religion that we have forgotten these simple facts. The monstrous atrocities, tortures and genocides of the last 100 years have amply demonstrated that ethics cannot long survive in the absence of religion. Only religion can teach men to be gentle, to curb their passions, to care for others. And only religion can provide human beings with the moral education and elevation necessary to deal with the Weapons of Doomsday conclusively. Throughout history, human beings have found the wherewithal to unite over religious books. The most famous of these are the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Koran. Today, too, men must come together over one Book. Men must join hands around whichever Book is the most all-embracing, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, language, or nationality. All men must rally around one banner. They must produce water with the might derived from that flag, and extinguish all fires. Only in this way is a lasting peace possible. Do not forget: if we do not stamp out the flames while they are already under control, the tiniest spark anywhere may someday destroy the entire forest, leaving a desolate, waste land in its wake.

8. A Devastation Of Cosmic Magnitude

Where is this fire going to end? We shall surely put an end to this wonderful, this heavenly world of ours with our own hands. The basic power of the universe will be harnessed in a cataclysm whose ferocity lies beyond imagination. The energy that powers the sun, that fuels the furnaces of the stars, will be unleashed on earth in
all its terrifying intensity; human beings will scorch and raze the face of the Earth, and will roast and boil and vaporize each other with temperatures of tens of millions of degrees. Even their individual atoms will cease to exist. This is the stark, the horrifying reality we have used our science to conjure. Of all the bodies in the universe, our planet is the only one on which we are sure life exists. A wise adage goes: “I myself did and myself suffered; so who cares?” If we decide to commit global suicide, there will be no one left behind to shed tears after us.

9. Destination: Disaster

Unfortunately, the day is long past when the Arms of Apocalypse were under the exclusive monopoly of the two superpowers. At present, there is no way in which weapons proliferation can be halted. The long closely-guarded secrets of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb (which is a thousand times more powerful) are out. For any nation with the means to construct the first, the second is also no longer out of reach. Any government, even if it developed and built them on its own, could today pave the way to the destruction of the entire planet. It is stated in a Divine utterance that: “Human beings will bring about Doomsday with their own hands.” What else can this saying refer to, except thermonuclear war? Moreover, the potential effects of all novel weapons systems - under consideration or deployment by member countries of the “Nuclear Club” – on the Balance of Terror are uniformly and depressingly destabilizing. Mired as they are in a quicksand in which all struggle is self-defeating, the more the superpowers have striven to increase their stockpiles, the lower has their security (and that of the whole world) sunk. And now, as if the balance weren’t precarious enough already, the push towards space weapons, Star Wars, and newer generations of weapons and missiles promises to exacerbate the situation by many orders of magnitude.

10. The Second Deluge

Once before, in the remote past, our Earth experienced another catastrophe of global dimensions: The Flood, occurring in the time of Noah, destroyed all living beings not on board his Ark. In this respect, Noah was the second Adam. Today we are faced with the danger of a second Deluge. But this time things are different. Whereas the first Deluge was one of water, the second will be a Deluge of Fire. Furthermore, although the first one did not harm the Earth or impair its ability to nurture life, the Fire Deluge will destroy all, reducing the entire planet to cinders. It is no use feigning ignorance. All the governments of the world, including those of Europe, are fully aware of the facts, aware of this diabolical error. But whereas peace talks drowsily continue on the one hand, they are all striving to bring about the End of the World on the other. On the one hand are the global preparations for this awesome destiny; on the other is the paralysis, the singular and total inaction, to do anything to prevent it. No matter from which angle we view things – whether scientific, medical, technical, or indeed any other – the conclusion is inescapable: Mankind is preparing to burn down the Earth, to reduce it to fire and ashes, together with all its human, animal and vegetable inhabitants. Who will bear the responsibility for this infernal agony? Who feels prepared to stand to account for this universal slaughter, this massacre of mankind, this Geocide?

11. Shall we Murder Our Own Children?

On the one hand, we cherish our youth, our children and grandchildren; on the other hand, the fathers of the same children are preparing to purge the Earth with the Weapons of the Armageddon, to incinerate their children with their very own hands. If we, as the community of the United Nations, do not with good sense and conscience put an end to this peril, how can we expect our children to succeed where we have failed? If the United Nations forum cannot find a satisfactory solution to this menace, for what else is it good for, what is its reason for existence, its raison d’être? And if men do not pity Mankind and themselves, let them at least have mercy on the animals and plants of the world, those innocents that have borne the burden of Mankind ever since Adam and Eve.

12. No Escape

The enormity of a global conflagration staggers all powers of the imagination. Atom-Age Man has sought far and wide for a haven by which to escape this terrible fate. Nowhere has he been able to find a foolproof shelter, not even from the peaceful yet still poisonous (radioactive) byproducts of the atom, either in the bowels of the Earth or ten miles beneath the sea. Once men had understood this, they turned their eyes to the realm of space. It is high time this sinister secret was revealed: Be it known that whatever its ostensible purposes, the real aim behind the Space Race is the craving of men to find a home in space so that they can detonate Doomsday on Earth. Is it an article of Divine Judgement that compels you to do this? Or are you only acting under the compulsion of a selfish and satanic drive, from Adam and Eve to this day?

13. The Third Adam

The First Adam, as everyone knows, was Adam himself (and Eve). Noah was the Second Adam. And now, prepare yourselves for the Third Adam, for this is what the rockets, the space stations and shuttles are all about. The frantic search is on for a hideout in space where the last representative of Mankind can survive. Who will the Third Adam be? Whether American or Russian, Japanese or Chinese, his nationality will mean little to the rest of foredoomed mankind and, ultimately, nothing to himself. For a moment and simply for the sake of the argument, let us suppose that this is, after all, a viable solution. Where can Adam-3 survive? Within the solar system, the only place where the support of life is even remotely possible is on Mars. The conditions on Mercury, Venus and the outer planets are much too forbidding for the survival of man, even granting that the enormous difficulties involved in visiting them could be overcome. Interstellar and intergalactic travel lies beyond the pale of any currently foreseeable terrestrial technology, quite apart from the fact that a suitable planet would first of all have to be found. Whether in a space station, on the Moon or on Mars, man will be totally dependent on a spacesuit, an oxygen mask, and medical food-pills for survival. He cannot do without these for a single instant. Can you forecast how long he will survive under these circumstances? The most he can manage will be five years. In view of this fact, how much longer is the Space Race going to continue? We cannot justify these expenditures, this senseless squandering of vital and gigantic resources, especially not when Mankind stands in dire need of them. As far as the giant telescopes can probe, the only habitable place within sight – and within reach – is the planet we are already standing on. Does it not say something to us that scientists looking 15 billion light years into space, to the very limits of the cosmos, have not yet discovered a single planet even remotely resembling the Earth? That we should perhaps be a little more careful, a little more considerate and reverent, toward the humble ground we tread on?

14. Space Weapons, Star Wars

Since he cannot escape himself no matter where he goes, and as if the Earth were not enough, man had to carry his dreams of destruction into space. Leave aside for the moment the thousands of spy satellites in orbit, the U.S. Armed Forces Space Command and its opposite number in the USSR. Even if they can only fantasize about it today, the vision of particle-beam and laser weapons on orbiting satellites shooting ICBMs out of the sky has mesmerized those who believe that an effective defense against a thermonuclear “spasm war” is possible. But things have not quite worked out that way. Far from rendering nuclear weapons and the insanity of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) “impotent and obsolete”, the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) has, by the science-fiction nature of its aspirations, been reduced to the much more mundane and dangerous – position of maintaining the capability to retaliate. Is it not obvious that herein lie the seeds of a much more terrifying space/arms race than witnessed hitherto? The Maginot Line of the French was, in World War II, able to secure little defense against the Germans. How much more protection or the illusion thereof is a space-based Maginot Line expected to provide? Ignore for a moment that a Star-Wars system will cost trillions of better-spent dollars; that no one will be able to write 50 million lines of error-free software. Disregard the fact that the computers will have to fight out World War III between themselves, since there will be no time to alert the generals and heads-of-state. Forget, too, that a well-aimed grain of sand can disable a satellite, that mirrors can be used to reflect the lethal beams back to their sources, and the countless other countermeasures that undoubtedly can, and therefore will, be used. A much more ominous possibility looming ahead seems to have escaped almost everyone: If directed-energy weapons of sufficient power are developed someday, they will much more readily be used for offense than for defense, which brings us back to the very predicament we had set out to resolve. When are we going to realize that our only true security lies, not in devising ever more intricate and impossible arms (whether offensive or defensive), but in the total abolition of weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction?

15. The Way Out

The road to salvation lies, in our view, in the four fundamental Books: The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Koran. Only from these Four Books will mankind be able to derive the moral fortitude and integrity, the self-control and inspiration, necessary to protect against the deadly fruits of science and civilization. (All other religious texts, to the extent that they are true, may be regarded as exegeses of and commentaries on these). Let us unite on these Four Books of Divine Dispensation. Let us not try to destroy our only – once and future – world. Let us strive to rid ourselves of these impulses – selfish and diabolical - that plague the minds of men. Let us endeavor, not to incinerate our Earth with hellfire, but to enrich it – humanely, with wisdom, with the Pen, from our present vantage point of medicine and science. Starting with man, let us feel a little compassion for the whole world, together with its plant and animal kingdoms that support Mankind.

We leave the verdict to the leaders of the world, and to all humanity. Let us wake up from this slumber. Let us cast off the demon of our egos. We have received this world as a gift from God, our Creator. The Earth is a present to us. With discernment and with conscience, let us again bequeath this abode to God, Who entrusted it to us in the Beginning.

Lover of humanity, with a divine feeling of conscience,
both materially and spiritually;
of the Earth with all its animals
down to the least little ant,
down to the tiniest flower
with all its plants;

Hadji Ahmet Kayhan

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Intimations of Sufism in Ancient Egypt

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
—George Bernard Shaw


According to Islamic belief, many prophets have come to humanity throughout its history, and all have preached the true religion of the One God. None of these preached anything else, so that there can be no contradiction between their original teachings. Due to either entropy or Murphy’s Law, however, these pure teachings became corrupted with the passage of time, so every so often, a new prophet appeared to correct the course. If we understand the word Islam in the sense of “surrender to God,” or more generally of monotheism, there is nothing strange in saying that Judaism was the Islam of Moses, Christianity was the Islam of Jesus, and so on.
Again according to Islamic belief, the repetitive appearance of prophets was not simply a return to the original teaching, but an actual upgrade, the revelation of something new. As humanity progressed from infancy toward emancipation, new information was revealed—at a higher turn of the spiral. This was commensurate with the ability of humankind to digest it, just as an infant is weaned away from milk to other kinds of food as it grows up. Finally, with the emergence of Islam, this growth process was complete, and there being nothing further to add, that was the end of prophethood.

During the long stretches of time when a prophet did not arrive, humanity frequently regressed to a state of polytheism, if not outright atheism. Even then, however, the monotheistic ideal was not entirely forgotten. People either recognized one god as supreme, as Zeus (Theos) was with the Greeks, or assigned supremacy to a different god at different times and places, as was the case with the Egyptians.
Now every religion has two components in general, with varying emphasis placed on each according to the case being considered. One has to do with external regulations, observations and worship: this is the exoteric component. The other involves inward experience, psychological states and spiritual progress. This inner dimension is called esoteric. Note that the exoteric is usually for the masses, while esotericism appeals to the few, the Elect. In Islam, the esoteric component is known as Sufism. But if earlier religions were earlier incarnations of Islam, it would follow that earlier esotericisms must have been earlier incarnations of Sufism. And thus, even when people strayed far from the ideal of monotheism, residues of true esotericism must have survived. It then remains for us to identify and clarify these.

It is with this in mind that I now propose to look at the polytheistic religion of ancient Egypt, through the medium of its art. (There were 1400 deities according to one claim, “thousands” according to another. This excludes the monotheistic “Amarna religion” of Akhenaten, which lasted about 20 years.) Of course, most people accept that ancient Egyptian religion was nothing if not symbolic. But can we identify elements therein that are also present in Sufism? Though we no longer need to refer to that wisdom, it may be instructive to observe the continuity.
The ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with the afterlife. Their entire culture bears testimony to this fact. But if we recall the Sufi precept, “Die before you die,” then the big picture takes on a whole new meaning. In that case, we realize that not simply the deceased, but living adepts, may have been on their minds. The elaborate rituals, invocations and prayers may have been intended, at least in part, for inducing a death-rebirth experience in the living human being.

The Base Self
The Base Self (nafs al-ammara) is our inner demon that lurks inside each of us, silently plotting our downfall. More information on the Base Self is available elsewhere on this website (here), or here.

The Base Self is depicted as a snake, monster or ass (among other things) in Sufism. But not just there: in every tradition, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the Base Self has that kind of depiction, all of it unsavory. Ancient Egypt was no exception. In the four drawings (above left), we see a person in the act of fighting a serpent, crocodile or donkey. Especially the ass is a dead giveaway, since the characteristics of the Base Self have much in common with those of an ass. (This picture could also be read as the devil pestering the Base Self.)
But how can we be sure that the person is fighting the internal principle of evil (the Base Self) and not the external principle of evil (Satan or some equivalent)? The drawing on the right shows a snake with human legs and feet. Indeed, the Egyptians depicted their deities with human bodies and animal heads, indicating an awareness that human personalities could take on some of the characteristics of these animals.

Customary Interpretation: The four pictures at left show Apep, a huge serpent (or crocodile), an Egyptian monster living in perpetual darkness. Apep is the personification of darkness, evil, and chaos, and thus opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth). Ra was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Ma’at. Apep was given the title “Enemy of Ra.” (Wikipedia, “Apep.”) The Greek equivalent of Ra was Apollo, from a-pollon: “not-many,” implying One.
The picture at right shows a snake. Because they shed their skin, snakes were viewed as symbols of death and rebirth and thus of regeneration. The deceased recites: “I am a long-lived snake; I pass the night and am reborn everv day.” (Egyptian Book of the Dead, 87: Chapter for being transformed into a snake.)

Stages of Selfhood

The Sufis have traditionally considered that the Base Self is merely the basement level, or starting point, of the evolution of the self. As I have elaborated elsewhere (especially in The Station of No Station (2001), Chapter 4), the Sufis consider that there are seven or nine levels of selfhood (nine, if the seventh is “exploded” into three). These are: 1. the Base Self, 2. the Critical Self, 3. the Inspired Self, 4. the Serene Self, 5. the Pleased Self, 6. the Pleasing Self, 7. the Perfect(ed) Self.
Each of these represents a higher level of purification of the self (nafs). The last, with the highest level of purification, is difficult to conceive of in ordinary human terms. The others are intermediate stages leading to that goal.
Do we find representations of this concept among the ancient Egyptians? The figure below shows a person in a position very similar to the prostration (sujud) posture in Muslim Prayer. In Egyptian belief, the deceased were assimilated to Osiris if they passed the Judgment (see below), so much so that they were addressed as “Osiris N(ame)” in rituals. (Initially this was the privilege solely of the pharaohs. With the democratization of religion, in time this was expanded to include everyone.)
Under the prostrating figure are depicted seven different crowns. Each of these could well be conceived as the crown of a different station of selfhood.

From a Sufi perspective, the following drawing is even more interesting. It shows a person on every one of nine steps. The Egyptians also depicted a stairway of seven steps (see examples given below).
A Sufi might read this picture as follows: at every instant, one stands in judgment before God, as shown by the human figure with scales (about which more below). As s/he is progressively purified of the principle of evil—or Base-Selfhood—(shown by the pig in the boat being driven away), s/he progresses to the next level, or station. In this case, the persons on the stairs each represent a higher stage of one’s own self-purification (and hence, self-development). They depict, not different individuals, but different stages for the same person.

Customary Interpretation: The nine gods of the Ennead occupy the steps. Set or Seth is a god of the desert, storms, and foreigners (thus, of fearful things) in ancient Egyptian religion. In later myths he is also the god of darkness and chaos. He is represented by the pig being driven away from the presence of Osiris.

The Judgment Scene (Psychostasis: Weighing of the Soul)

The weighing of the soul represents the most critical stage in the progress of the deceased in the Afterworld. Here, in self-defense, s/he engages in the famous Negative Confession: “Not have I sinned, not have I wronged another…” and so on.

The jackal-headed Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased (red pot) against the feather of Truth (Ma’at, al-Haqq in Sufism). The ibis-headed Thoth keeps record. The heart must be light as a feather, free of any sins or excrement that weigh it down. If his heart exactly equals the weight of the feather, the deceased is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If it is heavier, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creature Ammit, composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus.
In Islam and thus also in Sufism, scales again play a role. A person’s sins are placed in one scale, his virtues or merits on the other, and weighed against one another. If the virtues outweigh the sins, one is allowed to pass into Paradise.
Miraj (Ascension)

One of the most important events in the Prophet’s life was the mystical journey he embarked on circa 621 AD. He was raised through the Seven Heavens to reach communion (if that is the right word) with God. At each level, he was greeted and allowed entry by the guardian of that level.
This was also the occasion on which Formal Prayer, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, was bestowed on humanity as a gift, so that everyone could experience their own personal Ascension. As the Prophet said: “Formal Prayer is the Ascension of the faithful.” Even if one does not experience it in the full clarity of consciousness, the ritual Prayer of Islam is the primary method for drawing near to God. Those who continue this Prayer for a long time are distinguished by their peacefulness and serenity.
There are various claims as to the mode in which the Prophet’s Ascension occurred, and also as to its repetition. Some say it happened both in body and spirit, some say only in spirit. Again, there have been claims that the Prophet Ascended 33 times during his life, others say he was always at that level after the first and famous Ascension. Concerning these we frame no hypothesis—all of them are acceptable to us.
When we look at the etymology of the word miʿraj, we find that it is derived from uruj, “elevation,” and that it means “ladder.” (In today’s terms, it would have meant elevator or escalator.)

Moreover, there is a chapter in the Koran titled Maʿarij, “Ladders” (Chapter 70). This implies that there are more than one Ascensions. As Master Ahmet Kayhan explained, “There has been no prophet without ritual Prayer, nor without Ascension (miʿraj). Many of them have ascended twice.” We also know of “Jacob’s Ladder” and the “Stairway to Heaven.”
The ancient Egptians believed that the soul of the dead ascended from earth to heaven on a ladder, as depicted above. They conceived of Paradise as having Seven Arits, or divisions of Sekhet-Aaru (Elysian Fields, abode of perfect spirits) corresponding to the Seven Heavens. Each Arit had its door, or gate, which was guarded by a gatekeeper, by a watcher, who reported the arrival of every comer.

Various images above show Ra’s magical boat (solar barque) with the flight of steps, representing the primeval hill where Ra had been born. The seven steps found on each would correspond to the seven levels of selfhood in Sufism, as well as to the Seven Heavens. They also resemble the pulpits to be found in mosques, some of which actually have seven steps. Of course, every such pulpit (minbar) is a symbol for the miʿraj: “the minbar’s symbolism…corresponds to the ladder of the worlds… The fact that the [top]most level of the minbar, the throne sheltered by its canopy, remains empty…represents…the unseen presence of the Divine Messenger.” (Titus Burckhart, Art of Islam, p96.) That would correspond to “the Station of Praise” (maqam al-mahmud).
What about one who ascends the staircase spiritually? Of the prophet Enoch (Idris), God says in the Koran: “We raised him to a high place” (19:57). Master Kayhan elaborated that this was the sun: “We attached him (Idris) to the sun.” (Tr. “Biz onu güneşe raptettik.)

Axis of the Universe

The first letter of God’s Name of Majesty (Allah) is alif or aleph, A. In form, alif also depicts the numeral 1 in various cultures, underlining the fact that God is One.
As René Guénon points out in Symbols of Sacred Science, alif represents the World Axis (p270n19)­—the Axis of the Universe, also known variously as the Tree of Life, the Cosmic Mountain, the Ray of Creation, etc. It is associated with the Navel of the World (omphalos) and with the concept of Pole (qutb). It is the axis that connects Heaven and Earth. Martin Lings equates the alif with the erect human body when he says that “the body stands for the Axis of the Universe which is none other than the Tree of Life.” (What Is Sufism, p84.) Indeed, in pictures of Islam’s Formal Prayer (salat / namaz), the standing position (qiyam posture) is depicted by the letter alif. Again according to Guénon, the “Straight Path” (es-sirâtul-mustaqim) in Islam is the same thing as the vertical axis in the upward direction, since the root word denotes verticality (qam, “to raise oneself”) (The Symbolism of the Cross, p113).

In Kundalini Yoga, the Axis of the Universe is the nadi (etymologically “water path”) called the Sushumna (its name in Taoism is Chong Mai). This is the channel corresponding to the human spine in the Subtle Body. In accordance with the Hermetic principle: “As above, so below,” it is thought that the macrocosmos is mirrored in the microcosmos (namely, in Sufism, the human being).

Others have already remarked the parallels between Kundalini and the Djed (or Tet) column in ancient Egypt (e.g. see Wikipedia entry for Djed). The Djed pillar is the spine of the human being and of Osiris, god (I prefer the Jungian term “archetype”) of the Underworld, death and resurrection. The Egyptian Book of the Dead identifies the pillar as both the backbone of Osiris (Ch. 155) and the support of the universe. It is indicative of stability. As the cosmic axis, the Djed is a cylinder, a column of light. It is the seat of themagic fluid,” and the Axis of the Universe.

Interestingly, scientists have recently found indications that the physical universe may also have an axis. Regularities in the Cosmic Background Radiation, as well as a study of 15 thousand galaxies, have led them to this view.



So: beneath their all-too-obvious polytheism, did the ancient Egyptians hide a secret system that spoke of perennial truths, that even today corresponds to valid elements in Sufism, which only initiates were made privy to? Or was it polytheism all the way down? I have presented some of the pictorial evidence. You be the judge. Meanwhile, we have enjoyed an excursion into Sufi concepts, using material from ancient Egypt. Certainly a thrilling ride!

Hermeticism and Sufism

In this post I return to the subject of Hermeticism and its relation to Sufism, which I had been intending to do for some time. My earlier essay on the subject, “From Hermeticism to Sufism,” can be found in The Secret of Islam (2003) and also in the online book, Science, Knowledge, and Sufism, available elsewhere on this site. This post can be considered as an addition to that.

In the Introduction to his Hegel and Hermeticism (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001), Glenn Alexander Magee gives a concise summary of Hermeticism (Part 3: “What is Hermeticism?” pp.8-14). I wish to build on this by using quotations from the Grand Master of Sufism, Ahmet Kayhan. These can be found in my own Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012).

What Does God Need?

Pointing out that “Hermeticism is difficult to define rigorously”, Magee concentrates on “one essential feature that I shall take as definitive of Hermeticism.”

Hermeticism constitutes a middle position between pantheism and the Judaeo-Christian conception of God. According to traditional Judaeo-Christian thought, God utterly transcends and is infinitely distant from creation. Furthermore, God is entirely self-sufficient and therefore did not have to create the world, and would have lost nothing if He had not created it. Thus the act of creation is essentially gratuitous and unmotivated. God creates out of sheer abundance, not out of need. This doctrine has proved dissatisfying and even disturbing to many, for it makes creation seem arbitrary and absurd.

Pantheism, on the other hand, is equally dissatisfying, for in pantheism everything becomes God, and there is no God beyond the sum of all things.

Hermeticism is a middle position because it affirms both God’s transcendence of the world and his involvement in it. God is metaphysically distinct from the world, yet God needs the world to complete Himself.

In other words, God is both transcendent and immanent, or, to use the corresponding Sufic concepts, God is both incomparable to creation and similar to it. Hence, God has Attributes of incomparability (sifat al-tanzih) that set Him apart from created things, and also Attributes of similarity (sifat al-tashbih), from which the attributes of created things are themselves derived. So choosing only one of these complementary aspects neglects the other. One of Ibn Arabi’s favorite quotations from the Koran is the Sacred Verse: “Nothing is like Him. He is the Hearer, the Seer” (42:11). Here, in one single Verse, we have this complementarity in a nutshell.

But what about God “needing” creation? Master Kayhan puts it this way:

Why did God create the human being? In order to let Himself be found. So that the human may say, “God exists.”
God is not in need of anything. Yet He does have one need. What is that? Nobody knows God. God created man in order to be known.

Notice, first, that the question: “Why did God create the universe?” is being answered here. Another way of phrasing this question is: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” which is the fundamental question of philosophy.

Second, God “needs” to be known. And for this reason, human beings are created, for only human beings are endowed with the capability to know God fully, in the way He deserves to be known. No other sentient or conscious entity possesses this ability—not even angels, exalted though they are. It follows from this that the rest of the universe is created as a dwelling place for man, as a “supporting cast” for human beings. In Sufism, Homo sapiens is that valuable.

Of course, Master Kayhan is here referring to the well-known “Hidden Treasure” Holy Tradition, attributed to the Prophet (in which God speaks in the first person singular): “I was a hidden treasure. I desired to be known, hence I created Creation so that I would be known.” In the original, “desired to be known” occurs as “loved to be known” (fa ahbabtu anurafa), so the entire universe was created out of this love. It is in this sense that the act of creation is a need, a desire, a longing.

As Master Kayhan explains,

He says, “I created everything for you, and you I created for Myself.”

And hence,

The universe has an owner. His name is God. Let’s eat, drink, have children, suffer their worries, and get out of here. Is this all we came here for? We came to search for the owner of the universe. You haven’t found the master of the house yet. We need to find the owner of the cosmos. And for this, calmness is necessary, patience is necessary, work is necessary.

In other words, the universe is the setting for a vast Treasure Hunt, in which the Hidden Treasure is God.


Now what does Hermeticism say about this? Back to Magee:

Hermeticists not only hold that God requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a crucial role in God’s self-actualization. Hermeticism holds that man can know God, and that man’s knowledge of God is necessary for God’s own completion.

This, of course, brings to mind the Sufic “arc of ascent.” God created the universe in an “arc of descent” (qaws al-nuzul), manifesting in entire creation. Now, the human being has to complete the return trip to God, and this is called the “arc of ascent” (qaws al-uruj). And how does one perform this ascent? Through God-knowledge (Gnosis: marifat-Allah) or knowledge of God, that is, by getting to know God.

Magee quotes from the third-century A.D. Corpus Hermeticum:

“For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of God… Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him.”

One is reminded here of a couplet by the famous Sufi poet, Niyazi Misri:

There is nothing more apparent than God
He is hidden only to the eyeless.

Magee quotes from Hermeticism scholar Garth Fowden:

“Not only does Man wish to know God, but God too desires to be known by the most glorious of His creations, Man.” In short, it is man’s end to achieve knowledge of God (or “the wisdom of God,” theosophy). In so doing, man realizes God’s own need to be recognized. Man’s knowledge of God becomes God’s knowledge of himself. …

In the standard Judaeo-Christian account of creation, the creation of the world and God’s command that mankind seek to know and love him seem arbitrary, because there is no reason why a perfect being should want or need anything. The great advantage of the Hermetic conception is that it tells us why the cosmos and the human desire to know God exist in the first place.

This Hermetic doctrine of the “circular” relationship between God and creation and the necessity of man for the completion of God is utterly original. It is not to be found in earlier philosophy. But it recurs again and again in the thought of Hermeticists

Of course, Magee cannot be expected to know that Sufism had already spoken of these matters long ago, and that Hermeticism may be viewed as an earlier incarnation of Sufism.

Hermeticism is also very often confused with Neoplatonism. Like the Hermeticists, Plotinus hold that the cosmos is a circular process of emanation from and return to the One.

—In other words, the Sufic arcs of descent and ascent mentioned earlier.

As Fowden notes: “Hermetic initiation seems to fall into two parts, one dealing with self-knowledge, the other with knowledge of God.” It can easily be shown, simply on a theoretical level, that these two are intimately wedded. To really know one’s self is to be able to give a complete [account] about the conditions of one’s being, and this involves speaking about God and His entire cosmos. As Pico della Mirandola puts it, “he who knows himself knows all things in himself.”

Here we arrive at the famous Tradition of the Prophet: “He who knows his self knows his Lord.” For as we mentioned above, God created the entire universe as a life-support system for Man. This means that Man cannot be conceived or understood without the context of the universe. He cannot exist apart from the air, the sun, the water that sustains him, the earth below that nurtures him, the starry sky above. He is not a “bag of skin” isolated and divorced from the rest of existence. To repeat: “I created everything for you, and you I created for Myself.” Without knowing this, Man goes heedlessly from death to death. But knowing this, Man also knows his Lord.


Back to Magee:

Salvation for the Hermeticists was, as we have seen, through gnosis, through understanding. This could be attained only through hard work, and then it could be attained only by some.

And here is Master Kayhan:

Always work, serve, don’t stay idle. Together with knowledge. Always to work.

What does God say? “I love those who work. I help those who work.” That’s all. To work, both materially and spiritually. What do we need? We need to persevere. To continue in every task. Not to abandon it. To be brave and hopeful—“I’m going to succeed in this task!” If you do this, you will be successful. God says, “If you want from Me, work. Be more hopeful.” Be hopeful physically and spiritually.

From the Corpus Hermeticum:

it is an extremely tortuous way, to abandon what one is used to and possesses now, and to retrace one’s steps towards the old primordial things.”

From the Koran:

“We have come from God and we shall return to Him” (2:156).
“God loves those who purify themselves” (2:222).
“As for those who struggle in Our cause, surely We guide them in Our paths” (29:69).

From the Corpus Hermeticum:

“All those who heeded the proclamation … participated in knowledge and became perfect [or "complete,” teleioi] people because they received mind. But those who missed the point of the proclamation are people of reason [or "speech," log<ik>on]…”

In Sufism, we have the contrast between the Perfect Human (insan al-kaamil) and the People of Speech (ahl al-kaal). The first is truly realized, the latter are stuck at the level of mere words. They are the opposite of, more generally, the People of States (ahl al-hal).

In order to clarify this difference, let me relate a Sufi story, the first time I am putting it down in print. After the illustrious mystic Mawlana Rumi met up with Shams, Rumi was showing Shams some books he had studied from. At that time they were standing beside a pool. Shams snatched the books out of Rumi’s hands and threw them in the pool.

Rumi exclaimed: “What have you done? One of those books was given to me by none other than the author himself, the great Jami!”

“Oh, is that so,” said Shams, and pulled the books out of the pool. They were soaked. He made a pass with his hand above and beneath them, and handed them to Rumi. Now they were dry as a bone: not a drop of wetness, no smearing of the ink, not a sign of warping that comes from the immersion of paper in water.

Rumi couldn’t believe his eyes. “Master, what is this?” he asked.

“All this,” said Shams, pointing to the books, “is tittle-tattle (kiyl u kaal). Ours is the Science of States (ilm al-hal).”


The Mysteries of the Universe


Hermeticists do not rest content with the idea of an unknowable God. Instead, they seek to penetrate the divine mystery.

Master Kayhan:

My God, thank you for giving these seven organs [two each of eyes, ears and nostrils, one mouth]. This [the head] is the Mount Sinai of Moses [7:143]. From the neck upwards, there are seven visible organs. There are a thousand, a million, invisible organs. …

This head is the antenna of the eighteen thousand worlds, it’s the antenna of the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Koran. …

A Sacred Saying: “I did not fit in anyone’s Heart but the Heart of the Perfect Faithful.” Nobody says “Don’t do it,” He says, “Work and become,” for heaven’s sake! Work. Yes! Let’s work and do it. Don’t wait for God from afar, bring Him close.

As Above, So Below

For the Hermeticists, says Magee, everything is intimately connected. This finds expression in their famous maxim: “As above, so below.” This lays the basis for the unity of the cosmos.

The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected. Self-knowledge, therefore, leads necessarily to knowledge of the whole.

Likewise, the sources of Sufism tell us that “the universe is man writ large, man is cosmos in the small.” As al-Qashani says, for example, “Man is a Small Universe, while the universe is a Big Man.” In a poem, Ali the Fourth Caliph expressed it this way:

Your remedy is within you, but you do not sense it.
Your sickness is from you, but you do not perceive it.
You presume you are a small entity,
but within you is enfolded the entire Universe.

Is Hermeticism Dead?

Many people may lament the fact that such an admirable system as Hermeticism is now extinct, that it has been consigned to the dustbin of history along with so many other schools and philosophies.

And yet, Hermeticism is not dead. It survives in its most sophisticated form. It lives on in Sufism.