Islamic Art, Yinyang Cosmology, and Leaving Religion

May 31st, 2024

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers,

• Our first new library item is an illustrated chapter, “The Message of Islamic Art”, by Jean-Louis Michon, distilling a lifetime of study, experience, and contemplation, into a few pages that try to grasp the essence of what may be rightly called “Islamic” in islamic art.

The idea of remembrance, of recollection—dhikr, tadhkir—is fundamental to Islam. The Quran is called dhikr Allah, remembrance of God, and dhikr Allah is also one of the names given to the Prophet Muhammad, not only because he was the trustee and transmitter of the Quran, but also because his behavior, his words, and his teachings… show to what extent he remembered his Lord, and as a result of this constant remembrance, was near to Him. This preoccupation, this obsession one might even say, with the recollection, the remembrance of God is not only a factor in individual perfection. It is also a stimulating ferment to social life and artistic development. In order to remember God often, it is necessary in effect that the members of the Muslim community should contrive to surround themselves at every moment of their lives—and not only during the ritual prayer—with an ambiance favorable to this remembrance.

Calligraphy by Shahriar Piroozram.

A chapter on “Yinyang Cosmology” elaborates on the foundations of Chinese culture, how they appear in the interplay of cosmic forces, and how the most basic elements of a metaphysical system pervade later doctrines and countless applications, such as in medicine, fine arts, and martial arts.

Dao ties together heaven, earth, and human beings, all of which are generated from the Dao and model its spontaneous and generative capabilities. Dao animates the whole world and leaves nothing out, giving this world unity and coherence. The world is not constructed from individual pieces, but rather is an indivisible whole taking patterns and processes of interrelatedness as its fundamental structure.

• Finally, in an important article for the comparative study of religion, “Getting Away from ‘Religion’ in Medieval Japan”, Phillip Garrett explains how our modern concept of religion is inadequate to understand the fluid complexity of Japanese medieval society, with its pervading spiritual dimensions. Moving away from the “monks versus warriors” and “religious versus secular” simplifications, the article shows how

the historical reality cannot be understood if we only consider local warriors as leaders of armed forces and overseers of cultivators; they need to be seen as ritual practitioners and religious figures, whose authority over both their extended family and land depended heavily on their connection to temples and shrines.

The Emerald Tablet, Mystical Friendship, and Kannon as a Boy

April 30th, 2024

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader,

• Our first new library addition this month is a long overdue page on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos, the acknowledged foundation and symbolic framework of the whole of Arabic and European alchemy from late Antiquity and through the Middle Ages. We present Latin and Arabic versions with two English translations and a commentary by Titus Burckhardt.

The subtle or the volatile (Arabic: latif) can only be conquered by uniting it with the solid or corporeal, just as one can only hold fast a mood of the soul by means of a concrete picture. Alchemical fixation is nevertheless more inward, and is related to the role of bodily consciousness as the support of spiritual states. Through its union with the spirit bodily consciousness itself becomes a fine and penetrating power which can even have an effect outwardly.

• Our second new item is a chapter on the aspects of friendship in the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tse), one of the scriptural pillars of Daoism, explaining and illustrating how the Daoist sage becomes one with the cosmos through friendship.

Developing a friendship is, in essence, a training in looking outward beyond and away from self-interest—only one step away from letting go of personal preconceptions, a prerequisite for the expansion of insight. Genuine friendship is therefore a highly effective source of spiritual transformation. Mystic union with the cosmos is surely a sign of spiritual awareness in the Zhuangzi, but mystic union between friends is equally so; the experience of cosmic oneness is not only often linked with the experience of a group of friends who are of one mind, but can be an extension of it.

• And we complete our selection with a Japanese medieval Buddhist tale on the unfathomable depth of the relation between master and disciple, “Origins of the Statue of Kannon as a Boy”.

A proverb held that parents and children spend but a single lifetime together; husbands and wives, two (the current one and the one to come); but teachers and students, like lords and vassals, are joined by karma in three lifetimes: this life, the previous one, and the next. At the very end of the tale, Kannon himself reveals the depth of his relationship to the holy man through an allusion to this belief.

Shorinji Kannon statue
Statue of eleven-faced Kannon at Shorinji Temple.

Fusion of Horizons, Yakshas, and Cosmic Grammar

March 31st, 2024

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear reader,

Our first new library selection is a key reference article by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy on the yakshas, the tutelary deities or patron-saints of nature in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain lore.

If some elements of ancient Hindu cult, perhaps of millennial antiquity, are still preserved in the Christian office, this is no more than evidence of the broad unity that underlies religious tendencies and acts everywhere and always; pagan survivals in all current faiths are signs of fulfillment, rather than of failure.

yaksha sculptures
Yakshas from Bharhut

• Next we present a study on “Understanding Other Religions”, comparing the views of al-Biruni (11th century) with H.G. Gadamer’s concept of “fusion of horizons” (Horizontverschmelzung).

Al-Biruni likens the custom of idol worshiping among Hindus to the old Hellenistic belief that the images or representations of divine beings have no magical power. Since the ancient Greeks “considered the idols as mediators between themselves and the First Cause, and worshipped them under the names of different stars and the highest substances.” In other words, people do not worship these images as deities; they rather function only as reminders for the non-philosophical pious man and woman of the existence of the divine.

• And we conclude with the introduction to an important volume on the study of language not as a conventional human construct, but as an inhaerent blueprint for reality, The Poetics of Grammar and the Metaphysics of Sound and Sign.

In culture after culture, grammar turns out to be dependably linked with creation and restoration. Knowledge of grammar allows access to the workings of reality, which the skilled grammarian is capable of using efectively—to bless or to curse, to kill or to heal, to make present or to transform. In this sense, grammar transcends the merely descriptive or referential analysis of linguistic systems… The world itself is grammar-ed, though not necessarily in transparent ways.

Two Selves, a Wealth of Splendour, and Yin-Yang Harmony

February 29th, 2024

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader.

• Our first new library addition this month is an insightful brief essay by Roger Lipsey, “The Two Selves: Coomaraswamy as Man and Metaphysician”, introducing the life and works of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy from a unique perspective.

Coomaraswamy’s sense of the drama of inner life—not so much the ups and downs, peripeties and dénouements of falling in and out of love or in and out of good fortune, which he knew perfectly well from his younger days, but the drama of the search for God, a movement towards some things, away from others. In his later years, Coomaraswamy was trying to free himself from his biography.

• Next, from a dissertation on danzo, sandalwood carvings used in Japan for ritual purposes, we have a study on the key Japanese concept of shogon, where metaphysics, spirituality and aesthetics meet.

The term shogon is used in the sense that Buddhist deities adorn themselves with their own virtues and good deeds. This is based on the idea that the Buddha body (busshin) and the Buddha Land (butsudo) are interrelated to the human body and the physical world and can be “adorned” with virtues through religious practice such as ascetic discipline, meditation, wisdom and compassion in the same way as the physical body can be adorned with jewelry and ornaments.

danzo Heian
Box-shaped Portable Shrine, Heian period, second quarter of 12th century. Courtesy of Shitenno-ji and Nara National Museum. Photo: Morimura Kinji.

• And finally we present a selection of one of the most popular and valued Taoist alchemical treatises, the Dragon-Tiger Classic (Long hu jing), written in highly symbolic language to convey the subtleties of cultivating nature in harmony with Nature.

The enlightened ones were in harmony with changes in the sky and the earth. They built the furnace and set up the cauldron to make the sacred medicine. When old people take this medicine, generative energy will be collected, the spirit will be gathered, and they will return to the vitality of youth. When young people take this medicine, they will attain immortality. The sage Chen-i likened the cultivation of the sacred elixir to the creation of sky and earth.

Sufi Dancing, Archery, and Cinnabar Red

January 31st, 2024

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader,

Our first monthly selection is “Dancing the Islamic Way: Two Famous Sufi Masters”, an article presenting translations of two medieval treatises on the inspired dances of some Turkish and Central Asian Sufi brotherhoods.

To dance requires space, which makes the action a means for sanctifying locations. All the places Shaykh Safi is said to have inhabited, from temporary abodes to the site of his grave, were made sacred from what descended on him from God during his dance. Since all these venues acted as places of pilgrimage for his followers, his dance was a perpetual source of blessing during his life and after. In a similar vein, throughout the centuries, the establishment of Mevlevi hospices around the world has required creating spaces to dance.

• Next we present “The Symbolism of Archery”, by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, explaining in full depth the symbolic nature of bow and arrow in different traditions.

The actual release of the arrow, like that of the contemplative, whose passage from dhyana to samadhi, contemplatio to raptus, takes place suddenly indeed, but almost unawares, is spontaneous, and as it were uncaused. If all the preparations have been made correctly, the arrow, like a homing bird, will find its own goal; just as the man who, when he departs from this world “all in act” (krtakrtya, katami karaniyam), having done what there was to be done, need not wonder what will become of him nor where he is going, but will inevitably find the bull’s eye, and passing through that sun door, enter into the empyrean beyond the “murity” of the sky.

Natural cinnabar. Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Karlsruhe.

• And we complete our selection with “Mysterious Reds”, an excerpt from Spike Bucklow’s Red: The Art and Science of a Colour, showing us how in the practice of medieval painters cosmology, science, art and spiritual realisation were always in a harmonious interplay, blending in the symbolic and methodical power of alchemical synthesis.

Great power was available to the person who understood the nature of the two principles, mercury and sulphur, and of their role in all transformations – of synthesis and analysis, of gathering and scattering or of marriage and divorce. Such power was harnessed by the smith and underlay the story of Arthur and his sword in the stone. The same power was explored by the alchemist and was evident in their apparent ability to make gold.

Buddhist Music, the Indian Craftsman, and Sufi Generosity

December 31st, 2023

Welcome to our last newsletter of 2023, dear readers, with our best wishes for the new year.

• Our first library selection this month is an article on “Buddha as a Musician”, explaining the place of music in Buddhist scripture and life, its Paradisal associations, and the symbolism of the vina or arched harp.

Ecclesiastical orchestra music seems largely confined to Paradise, where its principal inhabitant—the Buddha—now again listens to music daily. Although some earthly scenes depict musical performances, they seem to be symbolic or teeter on the threshold of Paradise.

• In Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s book The Indian Craftsman, supplemented with valuable appendices, we have a full exposition of the practical, political and symbolic aspects of the role of artisans in traditional Hindu society.

The painter must be a good man, no sluggard, not given to anger, holy, learned, self-controlled, devout and charitable, free from avarice, such should be his character… He should draw his design in secrecy, after having laid the cloth quite flat. He may paint if besides the painter only a sadhaka be present, but not if a man of the world be looking on.

Vishvakarma Nepal
A Nepali statue of Vishvakarman, holding his tools and sitting next to his vehicle (vahana), the goose.

• And we complete our selection with a translation of the Treatise of Hatim, a 15th-century text in the tradition of chivalrous humanity and heroic generosity (muruwwat and futuwwat/jawanmardi), full of exemplary stories on the virtues cultivated in the Sufi path.

The jawanmard is the spirit’s sweetheart.
The spirit’s purity from this does start.
The wine of joy is his only potion,
In his name is the sign of devotion.
If you want the truth, the jawanmard’s the wali,
Kindness is the trade of the King of Men, ‘Ali.

Conversations, the Boat, and the View from Above

November 30th, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader,

• We begin our monthly selection with an excerpt from Conversations with My Own Heart by Metropolitan Anastasy of the Russian Orthodox Church, a collection of aphorisms reflecting on language and literature in the context of the power of prayer.

When a word, like a fiery coal, comes out of the crucible of the human spirit, it inspires and inflames thousands of people; it commands even the irrational animals, everywhere revealing its irresistible power. Created long ago by God’s almighty Word, the world still trembles at a fiery word of truth, feeling in it a spark of that eternal creative power.

• Our second new library addition is a brief article on the symbolism of “The Boat and the Helmsman” by Michael Negus, elaborating on the elements and scriptural links of the traditional craft of navigation.

The skillful helmsman understands the forces and by controlling their interaction he navigates the fastest and straightest passage through the water on his intended course. Translated into the terms of the spiritual life, helmsmanship becomes the continual invocation of the spiritual force and the complementary response of nature through the soul. These act within the context of the intention formulated by the will. The windward direction of the boat, like the upward direction of a mountain path, is an ‘ascent’. Likewise, effective spiritual work results in an ascent to a higher spiritual state, along an ‘ascending path’ (al-sirat al-mustaqim).

• Finally we present a chapter, “The View from Above and the Vision of the Heart”, from the book The Infinite Beauty of the World: Dante’s encyclopedia and the names of God, elucidating and weaving the strands of medieval cosmology and contemplation, when transformative philosophy and science were an inseparable compact.

ratio could be elevated to intelligentia, that is, the mind could be raised above reason to employ a faculty of knowing beyond reason – a “visus cordis” or “acies mentis” (“seeing with the heart” or “seeing with the mind”). Augustine and Boethius consistently employ the metaphor of moving “inward” in order to find a power of knowing suited for seeing “higher” levels of reality, and this is the (largely forgotten) context of much of medieval encyclopedism.

Some of our readers may be interested in the Theos Annual Lecture 2023, “Dying for Beginners”, given by Dr Kathryn Mannix.

On Light, Knowledge, and a Japanese Goddess

October 31st, 2023

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear reader,

• We begin our selection with De luce (“On Light”), a brief treatise on the physics and metaphysics of light, by Robert Grosseteste, 13th-century Bishop of Lincoln. This famous work, a challenging blend of philosophy, psychology and theology, carries echoes of the Persian “Philosophy of Illumination” by Suhrawardi, who preceded Grosseteste by about one century.

Light, which is the first form created in first matter, multiplied itself by its very nature an infinite number of times on all sides and spread itself out uniformly in every direction. In this way it proceeded in the beginning of time to extend matter which it could not leave behind, by drawing it out along with itself into a mass the size of the material universe.

• Next we have a chapter on the manifold aspects of the lesser known Japanese goddess Benzaiten (akin to Hindu Saraswati), a Janus-faced deity who moves freely between manifesta­tions, transforming from a woman into a dragon, a snake, or even a fox.

As Myoonten, this deity was also (and perhaps primarily) related to Tantric speculations about sound. We recall that Sarasvati appeared in the Rig-veda as a motherly, protecting figure, ensuring the efficacy of the prayers of sacrifice. Very early on, she was identified with speech (Vac)… she simultaneously represents the Word and the Mother, the source of creative power… the murmur of her waters evoked the sounds of music. As Vac, she was the consort (or daughter) of Brahma. She became the inventor of Sanskrit, the goddess of grammar, eloquence, intelligence, knowledge, and craft—hence her name Benzaiten, “Deva of eloquence and talent.”
Miyajima Torii gate
Torii (Shinto gate) by the temple of Miyajima, one of the great cultic centers of Benzaiten.

• And finally, to go further into the teachings on intellect and light, we bring you a selection of pages from the chapter on “Knowledge and Love”, in Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, by Frithjof Schuon.

Intellectualism cannot fail to engender errors. It confers self-complacency and abolishes fear of God; it introduces a sort of worldliness into the intellectual domain. Its good side is that it may speak of truth; its bad side is the manner in which it speaks of it. It replaces the virtues it lacks by sophistries; it lays claim to everything but is in fact ineffectual. In intellectualism a capacity to understand the most difficult things readily goes hand in hand with an inability to understand the simplest things.

An Adventure, Lines of Heaven, and Balkan Sufism

September 30th, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader.

• We begin our monthly selection with a precious little book on the individual and collective adventure of prayer, by B.C. Butler, recommended by Rowan Williams as one of the influential books of his youth.

No one can pursue the life of prayer, within the context of a whole life of dedication to God, the Supreme Good, and to his will, without exerting an influence on society. The health of society flows from this personal dedication and this influence.

• We present three translations of the first chapter of the Yijing, the influential Classic of Changes which remains the heart of Far Eastern cosmology and ethos. In their sacrality, impenetrability and wealth of interpretation, the four initial characters of the book, Yuan, Heng, Li, Zheng, are a functional equivalent of the mystical “detached” letters opening certain suras of the Qur’an.

The quality of strength in people is original innate knowledge, the sane primal energy. This is called true yang, or the truly unified vitality, or the truly unified energy… This energy is rooted in the primordial, concealed in the temporal. It is not more in sages, not less in ordinary people. At the time of birth, it is neither defiled nor pure, neither born nor extinct, neither material nor void. It is tranquil and unstirring, yet sensitive and effective. In the midst of myriad things, it is not restricted or constrained by myriad things. Fundamentally it creates, develops, and brings about fruition and consummation spontaneously, all this taking place in unminding action, not needing force. It comes spontaneously from nature, not forceful yet strong, strong yet not forceful.

yuan heng li zheng
The four opening characters of the Yijing, Yuan Heng Li Zheng.

• And finally we present a chapter “On Sufi Visual and Material Practice in the Balkans”, by Sara Kuehn, going in detail into the practices of some European Sufis, as they strive to reach the Prophet Muhammad through the intermediate degrees of the shaykh and his shaykhs who have each performed their rituals in the past.

The fluid lived reality of Sufism, which infiltrated rural and urban Muslim life in the religiously plural and culturally diverse environments of the Balkans, is today characterized by both Sunnism and Shi‘ism, in their dual aspects of intoxication and sobriety, meaning and form, spirit and letter.

Divine Feminine, Work Spiritual, and a Musical Mantra

August 30th, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers,

• We begin our monthly selection with an article by Eric Geoffroy on “The Eternal Feminine in Sufism,” drawing from the writings of Ibn Arabi and the Emir Abd el-Kader.

In his commentary of the Divine Name al-Qawwi (“the Strong”), Ibn ‘Arabi concludes that “in the created world there is none more powerful than woman, by virtue of a secret which is accessible only to him who knows in what has the world been engendered and through what movement has God engendered it.”

• A new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection is the popular Pu’an Mantra (Pu’an Zhou/Shitan Zhang), originally a rather esoteric hymn which has now for centuries been part of both folk religious practices and the repertoires of Chinese classical music, particularly of the very contemplative seven-string-zither, the guqin or qin.

playing guqin for a friend

“The silk string qin is an intimate instrument; simply playing it in the right environment can be an intimate act—even more so when playing for a soulmate.” (image source)

• Finally we present, by Jean Hani, “The Spirituality of Work and the Body Social”, the conclusion to his book on Divine Craftsmanship, explaining how any healthy/holy/whole social order includes the traditional and initiatic practice of artisanal skills.

The clearest and most detailed expression of this teaching is that transmitted to us from India in the narrative of the Bhagavad-Gita. The latter untiringly reminds us, from beginning to end, that God is the sole Agent, that all our acts should be referred to Him and that, consequently, our attitude should be one of detachment… We need to be detached from the goals and results of our actions; we should not act with the goal in mind and in view of our interest or our pleasure… Obviously it is not a question of despising the pleasure or interest engendered by an act, but only of according them second place.

Dream Conversations, Cultivating the Mind, and the Earthly Angel

July 31st, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers,

• We begin our monthly selection with Thomas Cleary’s translation of Dream Conversations on Buddhism and Zen, a collection of excerpts from letters by Muso Soseki, the “Nation’s Master” (kokushi) of 14th-century Japan, teacher of emperors and generals. These selections from his letters may be best described as a mystagogical anthology, that is they guide the disciple deeper into the mysteries, protecting and illuminating his discipline, illuminating obscure corners of the spiritual way and providing unexpected answers to common problems.

There are various mental phenomena and mental postures that obstruct the potential for true understanding. Because of their harmful and destructive nature, they are called demons or devils. These demons include greed, hatred, conceit, opinionated views, addiction to meditation states, pride in knowledge, desire for personal liberation for one’s own sake alone, sentimental compassion, anxious haste to attain enlightenment, idolizing teachers, rejecting the teaching because of finding fault with teachers’ external behavior, indulging in passions, and fearing passion. Anyone who wants to realize Buddhist enlightenment is obliged to examine his or her mind and heart for the devils.

• We continue with an instructional text by Chinul, one of the great masters of Korean Buddhism. Secrets on Cultivating the Mind, in the form of a dialogue, continues to be one of the most popular text of Seon (Zen) lineages in Korea.

You should not utter absurdities lightly; to be unable to differentiate the perverse from the noble is to be deluded and confused. Nowadays, you people who are training on the path chat about truth with your mouth, but in your minds you only shrink from it and end up falling into the error of underestimating yourselves by thinking that you do not share in the Buddha-nature. This is all that you are doubting. You train on the path but do not know the proper sequence of practice. You talk about truth but do not distinguish the root from the branches. This is called wrong view; it is not called cultivation. You are not only deceiving yourselves; you are deceiving others too. How can you not be on your guard against this?

talismanic calligrams
Talismanic panel (tolak bala) with calligrams depicting the Earthly Angel
riding the Lion of Ali (Macan Ali).

• And we complete our selection with a chapter on a Javanese Sufi talisman of “The Earthly Angel” (Malaikat Lindhu), a fascinating example of cross-cultural and interreligious artistic exchanges. This particular tolak bala (disaster-repelling amulet) is an Arabic calligram of the Hindu elephant-headed Ganesha.

The Shattariyya name Earthly Angel suggests the imprint of Gana’s earlier role in Hindu yoga practices, where the elephant-headed god corresponds with the earth element. Indian tantric texts assign Ganesha to the lowest chakra of the body’s six centres of psychic energy and equate him with the kundalini energy, the awakening of which leads to spiritual perfection. The Shattariyya narrative of the Earthly Angel arising from earth to achieve “heavenly spirituality” remarkably resembles this mystical process.

A Goddess of Depth, Overcoming Nature, and Flying Home

June 30th, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers,

We begin our monthly selection with an intimate account, almost an “ethnological meditation”, of the myth and rites of the goddess Paiditalli, in Andhra Pradesh, southeast India, elaborating on the fluid dynamics of the Telugu cosmos of the kingdom of Vizianagaram, which she inhabits and enlivens and where she is cultivated. It is also a prolonged reflection on the interpenetration between polity and sacred kingship at its deepest cosmological level: how a kingdom is grown in tandem with the “growing” of its tutelary deity.

Change is the condition of depth. What is often referred to as ‘wilderness’ in India, supposedly on the peripheries of ‘civilization,’ is where depth exists in its natural cosmic condition. Put differently, wilderness is a greater concentration and intensification of depth. In or close to regions of greater depth—seas, lakes, streams, and forested mountains full of caves—are the abodes of depth-specialists: fishers, hunters, healers, and of course, goddesses. Depth-specialists are experts in transformation, entering depths and there joining with the interior dynamics of cosmic process.

• Next we present a chapter from Titus Burckhardt’s Alchemy, “Nature Can Overcome Nature”, where some aspects of the dynamics of inner and cosmic transformation are illustrated and explained, using the language of alchemy and its analogous symbols from various traditions.

The spiritual will is a vibration coming from the center of the being, a spiritual act which breaks through thought and which on the plane of the soul effects two things: a broadening and a deepening of the “sense of being”, and a clarification and a stabilization of the essential contents of consciousness.

Taichitu diagramas

• And we complete our monthly selection with a brief chapter from our own anthology of Kabbalistic stories, The Living Palm Tree, by Mario Satz, affording precious insights into the traditional master-disciple relation.

When there is no master to guide the way, birds know only a tiny parcel of heaven and earth. But if they have a guide, even by night they can read the maps of the stars, and far in the distance they can catch sight of the eaves under which their fledglings will sleep. When a master of the flight leaves, it seems as if there is no frame or direction in our own wings, but soon enough a new swallow comes to take his place, and once more it is possible to return again and again to where you have been.

The Dreaming, the Living Awaken, and the Five Dreams

May 31st, 2023

Welcome, dear readers, to our May newsletter.

We begin our monthly selection with a lecture by W.E.H. Stanner on the Dreaming, the no-time and no-place of myth and revelation among Australian aboriginal cultures.

Although The Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred, heroic time of the indefinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present. One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen. We should be very wrong to try to read into it the idea of a Golden Age, or a Garden of Eden, though it was an Age of Heroes, when the ancestors did marvellous things that men can no longer do… Clearly, The Dreaming is many things in one. Among them, a kind of narrative of things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen; and a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant for Aboriginal man.

• Next, showing how both dream and vigil can refer to the same higher states of reality, we present the famous medieval allegory Hayy ibn Yaqzan, “The Living Son of the Awake”, by the 12th-century Iberian philosopher Ibn Tufayl, which has sometimes been called a “philosophical novel” or an “allegory”. Developing the idea of a perfection and wisdom of nature to which the pure human soul can attune, this influential narrative is said to be the inspiration of Robinson Crusoe and similar works.

Those who merely think and have not reached the level of love are like the blind. The colors, at that stage known only by accounts of their names, are those experiences which Ibn Bajja said are “too splendid to arise in the physical world”, which “God grants to those of his worshippers whom He chooses.” But to those who reach love, God
grants what I purely metaphorically call another faculty. This corresponds to the restoration of sight.

• And we complete our selection with an essay on “The Five Dreams of the Bodhisatta in the Murals of Pagan”, full of Buddhist cosmological imagery and bringing the concept of dream back to its highest metaphysical dimensions.

In a sequence of five successive visions, it becomes clear to Sakyamuni that he is in a state of pregnancy—pregnant of himself—, and that the moment of delivery is close. What the dreams show, is the perfectly developed and ripe being, ready to realise these still hidden but real potentialities. The dream is similar to a pregnancy: it takes place in the head of the dreamer like the child grows in the womb of his mother, and as it can only be truly known and experienced by the dreamer, the baby can only be felt by his mother.

Seven Sleepers, Eloquent Images, and Weaving Mantras

April 30th, 2023

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear reader,

• Our first library addition this month is a small selection of texts and articles about the Seven Holy Sleepers of Ephesus (the “Companions of the Cave” of the Qur’an), including their precedents as told in a number of ancient narratives, and their influential depiction in the medieval Golden Legend (Legenda aurea).

Some will say, “They were three, their dog was the fourth,” while others will say, “They were five, their dog was the sixth,” only guessing blindly. And others will say, “They were seven and their dog was the eighth.” Say, O Prophet, “My Lord knows best their exact number. Only a few people know as well.” (Quran, 18:22)

Russian icon of the Seven Sleepers
19th-century Russian icon.

• Next we look at the pre-Hispanic traditions of wisdom in Mexican and Central American lands, with an article by Diana Magaloni Kerpel on the “Powerful Words and Eloquent Images” of the Florentine Codex, one of the rare documents left as a witness to the knowledge of the “masters of the black and red inks”, and their ideas about the supernatural origins of art and song.

For the shamanic tradition of the Tzeltal, the sacred words pronounced in the chants by the shamans are seen as flowers that unfold and open; sacred, powerful words are said to have a distinct aroma, just as real flowers do when they open… Flowers possess the energy of the deities, their tonalli or characteristic “solar heat”… Flowers are mentioned as the jewels of the otherworld; flowers come from “inside the mountains,” and they are described as “worthy, scented, fragrant, dressed in dew with the glow of the rainbow.” Thus flowers come from the “other side”… and their colors and scents are intrinsic to their otherworldly power. As León-Portilla has argued, the term in cuicatl in xochitl, “the song, the flower,” is used in Nahua thought to express what is considered “truthful on earth,” what is worthy.

Florentine Codex Flowers from the Florentine Codex.

• Finally, still on the topic of cosmic and human language, a chapter on the esoteric linguistics of prayer in Japanese Buddhism, from The Weaving of Mantra by Ryuichi Abe.

People of the world are unaware that each letter of the alphabet is already complete in its graphic form, while possessing infinite meanings of reality… People of the world do not know that each letter is replete with reality, that is, the words of reality (shingon), mantras. Words spoken without this knowledge are the words of delusion, which lead beings to the suffering of the three evil transmigratory realms. When they become aware of this knowledge of reality (of their alphabet letters), they annihilate all their evil karma and attain the all-embracing wisdom. This occurs just as one’s medical knowledge can transform a dangerous poison into the most beneficial cure.

A Rabbi and a Shaykh, Korean Buddhism, and the Arrow Prayer

March 31st, 2023

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear reader.

• We begin our selection with an article on “An Awesome Tale that Took Place in the City of Damascus in the Time of Rabbi Moshe Galante of Blessed Memory”. This marvellous and moving tale is about the initiatic relation between the chief rabbi of Damascus and an unknown Sufi shaykh towards the end of the eighteenth century.

In the course of their conversation the sheikh asked the rabbi, saying: “I have heard tell of you, that you are a man of wisdom. Have you perchance knowledge of the wisdom of such-and-such?” And the rabbi answered: “Sir, God has granted me a little of that wisdom.” The sheikh began to test the rabbi, and the rabbi opened his mouth in that wisdom, and the sheikh realized that he was chock full of that wisdom. Now, the sheikh had thought that no-one was like him; when he recognized the wisdom of the rabbi, he was bound to him by a great love, and said to him: “My brother, my friend: know that today you have caused me great joy by your wisdom. I therefore entreat you not to refrain from visiting me at least once a week, so that I may enjoy conversing with you about matters of wisdom.”

Hebrew calligraphy
Hebrew calligraphy of the name of God, as used for meditation.

• Next we present two brief and powerful prefaces to sutras by Master Wonhyo (7th century), one the luminaries of Korean Buddhism, taking us deep into the metaphysical reaches of Buddhist scripture.

Now, the fount of the One Mind is free from existence and non-existence and is independently pure. The ocean of the three levels of apprehension of emptiness merges the absolute and conventional and is perfectly calm. While calmly fusing two, it is not one. Independently pure, it is free from extremes, but does not lie in the center.

• And we complete our selection with an excerpt of “The Arrow Prayer in the Coptic Tradition”, by Fr. Anthony St. Shenouda, giving an overview of the combative aspect of the way of ceaseless prayer as practiced in the early church, particularly the Eastern monastic communities.

I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.

We would like to draw your attention to the recent publication of An Introduction to Qur’anic Ecology and Resonances with Laudato Si’, by Farhana Mayer, fully downloadable for free on this link.

Recollection, Providence, Memory, and Knowledge

March 1st, 2023

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers.

Our first library selection this month, “Recollection, Indian and Platonic”, is a chapter by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy on the universality of the doctrines regarding memory, considered from its metaphysical correspondences and with all its human concomitants in theology and the spiritual life. It includes what is perhaps the most concise and profound explanation of Providence in English literature.

There has been clearly established, in the Indian sources, a logical connection of Omniscience, an unbroken Memory of all things, with temporal and spatial omnipresence. Only from this point of view can the notion of a “Providence” be made intelligible, the divine life being uneventful, not in the sense that it knows nothing of what we call events, but inasmuch as all of the events of what are for us past and future times are present to it now, and not in a succession.

• Our second item, “Mythologies of Memory and Forgetting”, by Mircea Eliade, parallels Coomaraswamy’s arguments, with less on the metaphysical aspects and more on the mythical, adding some reflections about the value of history in our times.

The historiographic anamnesis of the Western world is only beginning. At least several generations must pass before its cultural repercussions can be gauged. But we may say that, though on a different plane, this anamnesis continues the religious valorization of memory and forgetfulness.

• And to complete this thematic selection, we present an article by John Carey, “The Heart of Knowing”, a deep reflection on the relations between memory, knowledge, and the mechanical pitfalls of modernity and of every age.

The essential difference, as Blake never tired of saying, is not in what is known but in how it is known. If we do at last come to the place of illumination, we will not need to write down what we find there: as Plato knew, “there is no risk that anyone would forget that, if once he should clasp it with his soul; for it abides in the shortest formulations of all.”

Orthodox Eros, Jewish Compassion, and the Spiritual Master

January 31st, 2023

Welcome to our first newsletter of this year, dear readers.

• We begin our monthly selection with an article on the deep understanding of marriage and love within the Christian Orthodox tradition, “Transfiguring Voluptuous Choice” by Fr Stephen Muse.

God is our true lover and this is why it is only through the call and response of being loved and loving that “He pursues, without fail and at all costs, the sighs of our hearts, which mean far more than any obligatory or formal asceticism. The spiritual life depends significantly on the character of these sighs.”

St Anne marriage icon
St Anne and St Joachim

• Further on a similar theme, we present a sermon by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Tzedek: Justice and Compassion”, explaining how inseparably intertwined the notions of justice and love are in Jewish scripture and exegesis.

Judaism is a religion of love: You shall love the Lord your God; you shall love your neighbour as yourself; you shall love the stranger. But it is also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts (who would not bend the rules, if he could, to favour those he loves?). It is also a religion of compassion, for without compassion law itself can generate inequity. Justice plus compassion equals tzedek, the first precondition of a decent society.

• And we complete our selection with a highly memorable chapter by Frithjof Schuon on the “Nature and Function of the Spiritual Master”, shedding light from different religious traditions on the key elements of a relation with a guide into the initiatic path and the inner life.

Every spiritual master is mysteriously assimilated, by his knowledge and his function and by the graces attaching to them, to his prototypes and—both through them and independently of them—to the primordial Prototype, the founding Avatara. On the level of this synthesis, it could even be added that there is but one sole Master, and that the various human supports are like emanations from him, comparable to the rays of the sun which communicate one self-same light and are nothing apart from it.

Cosmic Weaving, Fire in the Heart, and Skilful Happiness

December 19th, 2022

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers.

We begin our monthly selection with one of René Guénon’s masterful chapters on symbolism and metaphysics, “The Symbolism of Weaving”.

The threads of the warp, by which the corresponding points in all states are connected, form the sacred book which is the prototype (or rather, archetype) of all traditional scriptures, and of which these scriptures are merely expressions in human language. The threads of the weft, each of which is the development of events in a certain state, form the commentary, in the sense that they give the applications relating to the different states; all events, envisaged in the simultaneity of the “timeless”, are thus inscribed in the Book.

Peruvian weaving
Inca traditional weaving from Chinchero, Peru.

• Next, in “The Fire in the Heart”, a homily from the early Church Father Pseudo-Macarius we find a most subtle science of traditional psychology, and glimpses of what has been called a “spirituality of the heart”.

It sometimes happens that Satan carries on a dialogue within your heart, such as: “See what great evils you have committed; see how your soul is full of so many follies. See how you are weighed down by sins so that you can hardly expect to be saved.” These things he does to lead you to despair, thinking that your repentance has not been acceptable… But you answer him in this way: “I have the Lord’s testimonies in Scripture: ‘I do not wish the death of sinners but their repentance so that the sinner himself may turn from his wicked way and live’.”

• Finally, we have the essay “Happiness as a Skill” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, master of the Buddhist Thai Forest Tradition and abbott of the Metta Forest Monastery, going deep into the scriptural and contemplative views on some key concepts of Buddhist ethics and spiritual life.

The Buddha, seeing that happiness does come in lesser and greater forms, searched for actions that reliably could lead to higher and higher levels of happiness, and ultimately to the total, unchanging happiness of unbinding.

Retreat, Remembrance and Purification: Sufi, Shinto & Native American

November 17th, 2022

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers.

We start our monthly selection with a technical chapter on seclusion and recollection (khalwa and dhikr) according to the 14th-century Persian Sufi Ala al-Dawla al-Simnani, master of the Kubrawi order. Within the framework of a subtle and complex Islamic cosmological exposition, Simnani elaborates on the different deaths and resurrections along the initiatic path.

The light of the soul surrounds the individual. It resembles a polished door or window on which the sun is shining and from which the reflection is falling on the wall. This light of the soul does not have the power to annihilate (quwwat-i ifna’), but simply helps to illuminate visible things… The sparks of fire that the mystic sees in the beginning are signs of having traversed the element of the fire of one’s existence.

• Our second new library addition is a lecture by Stuart D.B. Picken on the rite of misogi, the Shinto purification by water—in rivers, in the sea or under a waterfall.

Shinto is a religion that concerns itself with purity and purification. It is also a religious tradition that not only brings humanity and nature close together but also seeks to remind humanity that its life is embedded within nature. And within the ritual of misogi this meaning is stressed… stepping into the flowing water in front of the fall, bowing, clapping, and then turning around and standing under the fall, taking the full weight of the water on the back of the shoulders… The entire theology of Shinto is symbolized in the act, in the belief that human nature can be purified and restored by returning to its deepest roots and the place of its origins.

Misogi cascade

• And we complete our selection with three chapters from the heart of the Native American Lakota tradition, the first pages of Black Elk Speaks, by John G. Neihardt, on the Sacred Pipe, on Black Elk’s early years, and on his Great Vision.

…and there around the big tepee they waited for the sacred woman. And after a while she came, very beautiful and singing, and as she went into the tepee this is what she sang:

“With visible breath I am walking.
A voice I am sending as I walk.
In a sacred manner I am walking.
With visible tracks I am walking.
In a sacred manner I walk.”

Forms of Sanctity, of Philosophy, and a Sicilian Church

October 16th, 2022

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear readers.

• Our first new library selection is a chapter from Michel Chodkiewicz’s Seal of the Saints, “The Four Pillars”, detailing the hierarchy of Muslim saints through time and space, the “Council of the Saints” (diwan al-awliya’) as explained by Ibn ‘Arabi and other great Sufi masters.

One of these four Messengers, Jesus, Elijah, Idris and Khadir, is the Pole. The latter is one of the corner-stones of the House of Religion, and corresponds [in the Kaaba] to the corner of the Black Stone. Two of the others are the Imams, and the four of them make up the whole assembly of Pillars (awtad). Through one of them God protects faith, through another sainthood, through another prophecy, through the fourth the mission (risala), and through all of them He protects the purity of religion.

• Next, we present “The Cosmology of the Arab Philosophers”, a brief selection from Titus Burckhardt’s Moorish Culture in Spain, and a powerful insight into the fundamental points of view underlying Abrahamic philosophy throughout the medieval Mediterranean.

In the symbolism of the spider’s web (with center, radii, and concentric circles), we can find a simple illustration of the difference between the Aristotelian and Platonic philosophies. Aristotelian philosophy looks on the different circles, or what they represent, as separate entities, and, significantly, this means that the center too is separate from the circles. Platonic philosophy, on the other hand, considers the analogies that link all levels of reality.

La Martorana Palermo
Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, Palermo, Sicily.

• Finally, a historical and illustrated sketch about “La Martorana”, the 12th-century Church of St. Mary of the Admiral in Palermo, one of the treasures of Norman Sicily architecture, combining into a visual synthesis influences from Norman, Byzantine and Islamic origin. Described by Arab traveller Ibn Jubayr in 1184 as “the most beautiful monument in the world”, it was in all likelihood associated to the Palermo school of philosophy, and it is still active as a parish of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, a diocese which includes the Arbëreshë communities in Sicily (officiating according to the Byzantine Rite in Greek and in Albanian).

Pythagorean Lives and Sacred Work

September 17th, 2022

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers,

We present this month two fundamental texts on the life and the doctrines of Pythagoras, the “pre-Platonic philosopher or sage or religious genius of the sixth century BC. The first is by Iamblichus, the fourth-century Platonist, who begins with these words,

All right-minded people, embarking on any study of philosophy, invoke a god. This is especially fitting for the philosophy which takes its name from the divine Pythagoras (a title well deserved), since it was originally handed down from the gods and can be understood only with the gods’ help. Moreover, its beauty and grandeur surpass the human capacity to grasp it all at once: only by approaching quietly, little by little, under the guidance of a benevolent god, can one appropriate a little.
The tetraktys or “fourness” by which the Pythagoreans swore.

The second Life is by Porphyry (possibly a teacher of Iamblichus), who studied under Plotinus in Rome from 263 to 269 CE; this means that this biography of Pythagoras comes also from within the heart of Late or Neo- Platonism, in a synthesis that would have great influence on Jewish and Islamic medieval authors— a philosophy “the scope of which is to free the mind implanted within us from the impediments and fetters within which it is confined.”

His friends he loved exceedingly, being the first to declare that “The goods of friends are common,” and that “A friend is another self.” While they were in good health he always conversed with them; if they were sick, he nursed them; if they were afflicted in mind, he solaced them, some by incantations and magic charms, others by music. He had prepared songs for the diseases of the body, by singing which he cured the sick. He had also some that caused forgetfulness of sorrow, mitigation of anger, and destruction of lust. As to food, his breakfast was chiefly of honey.

• Our third text today is a chapter on the contemporary “Desacralization of Work” by Roger Sworder, considering human vocation and our relation to nature in the light of traditional craft ethics and spirituality.

One of the most remarkable developments of the two centuries since the Industrial Revolution is the hobby. After working in the factory or the office people return home to practice in their periods of leisure what previously they would have done as work. This is the significance of gardening in a society which has mostly dispensed with agricultural labor, and of the millions of workshops in the backyards of suburban houses.

Javanese and Christian Luminaries, and Theravada–Carmelite Studies

August 14th, 2022

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, dear readers,

• We open our selection with “Faith comes from the sea,” an article on the Wali Songo, the legendary Muslim Saints of Java. The author retells “stories that play out on the frontier between the boundless ocean of Islam’s truth and the land-bound, finite abode of human frailty.”

In Java this conventional sufi metaphor – the mystic swallowed up in the sea of non- being – is transformed into a practice known as “meditative drifting” (tapa ngèli). For pilgrims at the tomb of Sunan Kalijaga, tapa ngèli is part of the saint’s legacy. Tomb custodians recount that every night after the Isha’ prayer the saint would go to the riverbank and meditate. To ward off the beguiling but dangerous forgetfulness of sleep he would slip into the river and meditate for hours immersed to his neck in the cool current and drift away in meditation.

Java BL Quran
Opening pages of a 19th-century Javanese Qur’an. British Library, Add. 12312.

• In a review of the recently published Luminaries: Twenty Lives that Illuminate the Christian Way, by Rowan Williams, Harry Oldmeadow draws an insightful intellectual portrait of the author, adding substantial reflections on the facets of the Christian way.

For Williams religion is not an end in itself but a means, an indispensable guide on the journey to the deepest understanding of our condition and of the human vocation which, properly understood, cannot be divorced from our relationship with God. He never falls prey to sentimental religiosity and would no doubt endorse Martin Buber’s dictum that ‘It is far more comfortable to have to do with religion than with God.’

• Lastly, we have an article by Daniel Millet Gil, “The Buddhist Jhanas and Mystical Prayer and its Degrees,” part of a comparative effort based on original sources, mostly the Theravada Visuddhimagga and Saint Teresa of Avila’s Castillo interior.

It should be emphasized, as Teresa does insistently in her works, that mystical prayer, as extraordinary phenomenon, is not the only way to achieve the union of love and will with God. There is also the more “sure way” of what Teresa calls “true union” (union verdadera) that consists of the perfect cultivation of the virtues and faithful fulfillment of the will of God.

Rules for Solitaries and Metaphysics of Music

July 13th, 2022

Welcome to our July newsletter, dear readers.

We begin this month’s selection with two of the most influential documents of the Western monastic tradition, the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Rule of Saint Columbanus, which have for centuries inspired and guided the spiritual and practical lives of countless communities throughout the world.

St Benedict’s is longer, with a broader scope, going into many particulars of everyday life,

We believe that God is present everywhere and that the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the bad in every place. Let us firmly believe this, especially when we take part in the Work of God. Let us, therefore, always be mindful of what the Prophet saith, “Serve ye the Lord with fear” (Ps 2:11). And again, “Sing ye wisely” (Ps 46:8). And, “I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels” (Ps 137:1).

• St Columbanus’ (not Columba or Colum Cille) was a 7th-century Irish missionary mainly associated with foundations at Luxeuil and Bobbio. This Rule attributed to him dwells only a little on practical matters, to go instead into the particulars of the inner life of the monks.

The true tradition of prayer varies so that the capacity of the person devoted to it should be able to perdure without undermining his vow. It also depends on whether one can actually do it and whether one’s mental capacity allows for it, considering the necessities of one’s life. It should also be varied as the fervor of each one requires, according to whether he is free or alone, to how much learning he has, to how much leisure he has, to how much zeal he has, or at what age he arrived at the monastery. And so the realization of this one ideal should be variously valued, for the demands of work and place must be taken into account. So although the length of standing or singing may be varied, a person will achieve equal perfection in prayer of the heart and continual attention to God.

• And to complete our monthly selection we present a chapter by Alain Daniélou on the metaphysics of music in a comparative perspective, bringing to our attention fundamental aspects of the place of music—primarily though not only ritual music—in religion, politics and generally in preserving the order of the microcosm and the macrocosm.

For the world to be in a state of equilibrium, its different elements need to be harmonized. Since music expresses the relations between human and cosmic orders, it must respect the exact intervals on which these relations are based, as determined by the traditional data that define those relations. Disregard for such an obvious law necessarily leads to a breakdown of equilibrium and social disorder.

On Coomaraswamy, Ornament, and the Keepers of Memory

June 13th, 2022

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers.

We present this month both an article by Ananda Coomaraswamy and an introduction to his life and work by Harry Oldmeadow.

In “Ornament”, Coomaraswamy explains the basics of art in traditional cultures, with a lively comparison to some of the assumptions of modern art.

To explain the nature of primitive or folk art, or, to speak more accurately, of any traditional art, by an assumption of “decorative instincts” or “aesthetic purposes” is a pathetic fallacy, a deceptive projection of our own mentality upon another ground… The traditional artist no more regarded his work with our romantic eyes than he was “fond of nature” in our sentimental way.

Oldmeadow’s introductory essay sketches Coomaraswamy’s life, his main concerns and themes, including his relation to other scholars and authors.

Coomaraswamy’s later writings demand close attention from anyone seriously interested in the subjects about which he wrote. There is no finer exegesis of traditional Indian metaphysics than is to be found in Coomaraswamy’s later works… All his mature work is stamped with rare scholarship, elegant expression and a depth of understanding which makes most of the other scholarly work on the same subjects look vapid and superficial.

• Finally we have an article about the “keepers of collective memory” in the pre-Hispanic religion in the Americas, the men and women who were referred to as itz’aat, in Classic Maya inscriptions, and tlamatini in Nahuatl documents from early colonial central Mexico.

Mayan Itzaat
Maya depiction of the itz’aat. Drawing by D. Graña-Behrens.

These persons were engaged with religious tasks, teaching, sorcery, and writing and record keeping. There are minor differences… whereas in the Maya case persons with artistic skills like master painters or sculptors were also considered “wise ones” and keepers of the community knowledge, we do not find this in central Mexico…. Although responsible for the holy books, in Aztec society the tlamatini was not an active master painter or carver.

Mar Sharbel, the Imitation, and Lebanese Pilgrimages

May 10th, 2022

Welcome to our newsletter, dear readers.

• Our first new library addition this month is a brief biography of Saint Sharbel of Lebanon, one of the most influential and beloved Maronite saints of recent times. A monk and a priest of the 19th century, Mar Charbel’s tomb has become a major pilgrimage destination frequented by Christian and Muslim devotees.

The hermit was poorly dressed but with clean clothes, poorly fed but with good health and exposed without defense to the cold and the heat. Deprived of any comfort or human tenderness, he was nevertheless the happiest man in the world because the Lord became his truth, his strength, his riches, his joy and the reason for his life.

• Next we present an introduction to one of the most famous and important Christian manuals for the contemplative life, the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, with links to the original Latin text and to an excellent audio recording.

The more a man hath unity and simplicity in himself, the more things and the deeper things he understandeth; and that without labour, because he receiveth the light of understanding from above. The spirit which is pure, sincere, and steadfast, is not distracted though it hath many works to do, because it doth all things to the honour of God, and striveth to be free from all thoughts of self-seeking. Who is so full of hindrance and annoyance to thee as thine own undisciplined heart?

Nahr Ibrahim
Nahr Ibrahim Spring, a pre-Christian and Marian pilgrimage site near Beirut.

• And we conclude our selection with an article by Nour Farra-Haddad on “Shared Rituals through ziyarat in Lebanon,” on remarkable and inspiring practices by Christian and Muslim pilgrims. As they share rituals around the tombs of the saints of either religion, fraternally, they embody beyond words a very concrete interreligious dialogue.

I heard often from pilgrims “Allah wahid” (“There is only one God”) and also “Kull al-qaddisin fiyon al-barakeh” (“All saints possess baraka”). Pilgrims and sanctuary-keepers strongly emphasize that the shrines and the saints are sacred to all and that saints operate miracles for Christians and Muslims without distinction. Believers meet one another and perform the same practices without trying to hide or deny their religious identity in any way. There is no pressure at the religious sites on visitors and the religious identity of the pilgrims is perfectly preserved and respected.

Symbolism: Essential, Primordial, Abstract and Concrete

April 10th, 2022

Welcome, dear readers,

We begin our monthly selection with an essential essay by Martin Lings, “What is Symbolism?”, explaining and illustrating the spiritual and metaphysical relevance of symbols, for every individual path and for sacred traditions in general.

All created things are both disconnected projections of their creative Principle while being at the same time Its connected radiations. On this basis the symbol could be defined as that in which the relationship of connection predominates over that of disconnection… To see that symbolism is inseparable from religion we have only to remember that the word religion indicates the re-establishment of a ligament with the Supreme Archetype.

• Next, we present two translations of the “Discussion of the Diagrams” (Shuo kua), one of the “wings” or traditional appendices to the Chinese Classic of Changes, the Yijing (I Ching). This fundamental section details the mythical and metaphysical origins of the eight trigrams and the sixty-four hexagrams, blending abstract and concrete symbolism, marrying intellectually the observation of nature to the bare mathematical binary system of the hexagram lines.

In ancient times the holy sages made the Book of Changes thus:
They invented the yarrow-stalk oracle in order to lend aid in a mysterious way to the light of the gods. To heaven they assigned the number three and to earth the number two; from these they computed the other numbers. They contemplated the changes in the dark and the light and established the hexagrams in accordance with them.

Yijing Hexagrams Primal Round
The Primal Round Diagram of the structure of the sixty-four hexagrams, derived from the primal order of the trigrams.

• To complete our selection, we have a brief text on “Heavenly Seclusion” (Tianyinzi), related to the Taoist meditation practice called zuowang, “sitting in oblivion”, one of the applications of the principles of the I Ching.

All students of spirit immortality must first attain simplicity. Teachings that are intricate, artful, and attractive only lead people astray. They do not lead to ‘return to the root’…

Some people in the world study immortality but are only deluded by it. Some study breathing but are only made sick by it.

Aspects of the Divine Veil: Hidden God, Protective Mother

March 6th, 2022

Welcome to our latest newsletter, dear readers.

• We open our monthly selection with a new addition to the Matheson Trust Sacred Audio Collection, a very special Jewish song El Mistater (“The God Who Hides”), composed around the 15th century within the Kabbalistic community of Safed (Tsefat), and transmitted for centuries among the Jews of Aleppo in particular. Each one of its stanzas is related explicitly to each of the ten sefirot of the Tree of Life. We present several audio versions and one original translation.

God Self-Hiding within a veiling canopy,
Doctrine kept secret from every thought,
Cause of all causes, crowned with the crown (keter) of the Most High, A crown we give to you,
YHVH (Adonai).

• In “Revelation as Concealment: The Theology of the Icon Screen”, Father Maximos Constas explains the symbolic meanings of the icon screen, and its place within the theological cosmology of the Byzantine church.

Christ will presently “clothe himself in the royal robe of the flesh woven from the body of the Virgin, and in return he shall reveal her to be the Queen of all created beings”.

Madonna Buoninsegna
The Christ Child gently pushes away the veil of his mother. 13th-century painting by Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

• Finally, with “The Mystery of the Veil”, by Frithjof Schuon, we look at the symbol of the veil from the deepest metaphysical perspective and in its broader correspondences through various faiths.

We have a well known example of divine Femininity in Isis of the Egyptians, whom we mention here because of her connection with the Veil… she represents not so much the power of cosmic illusion as that of initiatic disillusion. By removing the veils, which are accidents and darkness, she reveals her Nudity, which is Substance and Light; being inviolable she can blind or kill, but being generous she regenerates and delivers.

A Shared House, Sinai Icons, and Ascent in Song

January 31st, 2022

Welcome to our monthly newsletter!

We begin our selection with a brief video documentary about the House of Mary (Meryem Ana Evi) in Ephesus, Turkey, as part of the exhibition “Shared Sacred Spaces”, held at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Marseille, France. The 2015 exhibition was part of an effort to provide new keys “for a deeper understanding of the complexity of exchanges between Mediterranean religions”.

Even if the dogmas of the three monotheistic religions seem incompatible, in reality they share biblical figures, saints and sites.

• Next we bring to your attention the extraordinary photographic archive of the 1950s and 60s Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Sinai, including icons, manuscripts, and liturgical objects preserved at St Catherine’s Monastery. You are warmly encouraged to browse this treasury from one of the most ancient and vital centres of Christian monasticism, from land sacred to all three Abrahamic faiths.

Sinai Virgin at Bush
Virgin in the Burning Bush at Mount Sinai

• Finally, in an article about “The Hasidic Nigun”, mystical folk songs of the Hasidim, Hanoch Avenary tells us about the gradual ascent in song, from the depths of this world to the higher spheres of the transcendent, to holy joy, enthusiasm, ecstasy. These tunes are not aimed at any audience, do not strive for external beauty, and cannot be measured by purely artistic standards; only by means of participation can their ravishing, moving, exalting power be realized.

“Offer your heart in chant just as it is, and sing as well as you can though it be nothing but the rustic songs and dances of the countryside where you live in exile.” There is a mystic idea that also tunes are in exile, and maybe liberated by leading them back to serve a holy purpose.

Towards the Essential, Science, Knowledge and Religion

December 31st, 2021

Welcome to our last newsletter for 2021, with best wishes for the new year.

• We are happy to launch a new publication, a collection of letters by Frithjof Schuon with correspondents from various religious traditions. The selection, titled Towards the Essential, gives precious insights into the spiritual guidance given by Schuon to disciples and seekers from all over the world.

To be alone with God—without bitterness towards anyone, this is a categorical condition—is a wonderful thing; this solitude living from the invocation of the Divine Name. Our life is there before us, and we must live it; we cannot escape it… It is easier—or less difficult—to be alone on a desert island, than to be among men who do not understand us. But if we have no choice, then we are obliged to accept the destiny God gave us and to do the best we can with it. Through prayer, we can transmute lead into gold, alchemically speaking; in a certain measure we can even transform those around us.

TTE cover

• We present the Introduction to one of the major works by late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, where he makes the case for a nuanced, traditional and informed understanding of “science”, of its place in society and its relation to the sacred.

When a society loses its religion it tends not to last very long thereafter. It discovers that having severed the ropes that moor its morality to something transcendent, all it has left is relativism, and relativism is incapable of defending anything, including itself. When a society loses its soul, it is about to lose its future.

• In the same vein, reflecting further on the pre-modern understanding of scientia as a divinely-given faculty and as a necessary part of the social fabric, we close our selection with the article “In between the mind and the heart: Katip Çelebi’s concept of ‘Ilm”.

Çelebi, through his open-mindedness and multifaceted works, represented the early modern enlightened Ottoman scholar, who recognised the healing merit and uniting power of ‘ilm in a rapidly changing society…. He explored the scientific, religious, and moral dimensions of ‘ilm and its agency in restoring peace, justice, and tolerance to Ottoman society…. Oscillating between his heart and his mind, he recognised the merits of both religious and rational sciences as two complementary and necessary paths to truthful knowledge and social harmony.

On God’s Name, Sound and Liturgy, Jewish-Muslim Places

November 30th, 2021

Welcome to our November newsletter, dear readers.

• We start our monthly selection with an important article, “One God, Many Names”, on the translation of the Name Allah and on traditional Divine Names in English and other languages.

God and his names are part of a universal human legacy. They are hardly unique to anyone, nor are the Abrahamic religions the sole residuaries of divine names expressing the Creator’s perfection and glory.

• Next, we have the introduction to the book Sonic Liturgy by Guy L. Beck, explaining how sound and music provide the necessary bond between myth (words) and ritual (action) in religion, and how theory is not enough to understand fully the role of music or sound in religion, which requires the study of its practical application in ritual and liturgy. Beck focuses mostly on the Hindu tradition, but he also gives precious elements for a comparative study of this subject.

Since music and chant are located at the core of religious life for most cultures, including ritual and liturgical action, it is just as improbable to understand a religious liturgy without the oral dimension as it is to penetrate a religious tradition without examining its musical dimension.

• Finally, in an article rich with images and historical examples, Pamela Berger shows how for at least a thousand years Christians, Jews and eventually Muslims recognized the importance of the same holy places in the Holy Land, honouring them, and even having similar traditions about the kind of veneration due to each figure.

Shabat Cloth
Symbolic representation of Jerusalem and its holy places on a Sabbath embroidered tablecloth, nineteenth century. To the right stands the School of Solomon (Midrash Shlomo).

Lord of Dance, Bektashi Songs, and Cosmic Love

October 31st, 2021

Welcome to our October newsletter.

We start our monthly selection with “The Dance of Shiva”, an article by Ananda Coomaraswamy on the symbolism of the dance, starting from the Hindu scriptures to reveal its metaphysical symbolism.

The Essential Significance of Shiva’s Dance is threefold: First, it is the image of his Rhythmic Play as the Source of all Movement within the Cosmos, which is Represented by the Arch: Secondly, the Purpose of his Dance is to Release the Countless souls of men from the Snare of Illusion: Thirdly the Place of the Dance, Chidambaram, the Centre of the Universe, is within the Heart.


• Staying with music, we present a new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection: music of the ashiks of Turkey, heirs to an ancient tradition of Anatolian lore, music and poetry which became part of the distinct Sufi Bektashi rites. As usual we offer some introductory samples and links for further listening and reading.

Bektashis perform the djem through prayers and dance (semah). Its manifestation in poetry and music uses particular texts, figures, rhythmic patterns and melodies, which are performed according to a certain order. At the beginning a slow-­paced music is performed with the accompaniment of the long-­necked lute (saz/baglama). Only the saz or a similar plucked string instrument can be used in a djem ritual… Percussive instruments, as seen in some other Sufi orders, are not welcomed since they are said to disrupt the divine atmosphere.

• Finally, we present the article “Divine Love in the Medieval Cosmos” about the cosmologies of Hildegard of Bingen and Hermann of Carinthia, a mystic and a philosopher of the twelfth century.

Of particular importance is the structure of the universe, the firmament being ‘in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom,’ surrounded by a ‘bright fire’ in which the sun and the three other planets are contained… Hildegard invites the reader to crack open the shell “covering” (integument) the cosmic egg, to unpick its symbolism.

Voices of Fire, Indian Alchemy, and a Sufi Master’s Letters

September 30th, 2021

Welcome to our September newsletter,

• We begin our monthly selection with an article by Algis Uzdavinys, “Voices of Fire: Understanding Theurgy,” which situates in a comparative perspective, and within the philosophical tradition proper, the major traits of ancient Graeco-Egyptian religion and initiatic mysteries.

In the Neoplatonic view, all manifested reality consists of different modes of divine speech, or different levels of revelation which operate with a system of signs and symbols that simultaneously manifest and conceal the One.

• Next we present an article “On the Use of Tonics and Elixirs in Sanskrit Medical and Alchemical Literature,” that is, dealing with rasayana, the “path of mercury,” or the “path of vital energy.”

One who has thus become fully perfected through mercury, who has left behind misery, ageing and death and is endowed with good qualities, continually roams all the worlds through moving in the sky. He will also become a giver and creator here in the triad of worlds, like the lotus-born; one who maintains [the world] like Vishnu; and a destroyer like Rudra.

• Finally we present a selection of overviews and commentaries on some letters by the famous 17th-century Syrian shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi. Ranging from the everyday worship minutiae to the depths of metaphysical insight, they give a clear picture of Sunni spirituality in Ottoman times.

Do not be content with the bodies over the spirits, nor preoccupy yourself with the spirits over the bodies. You should bring together both the outward and the inward. And you should know that, to achieve that, there is no escape from entering “lawful solitude” (al-khalwa al-shar‘iyya) and undergoing its “lawful training” (al-riyada al-shar‘iyya). By “solitude” I do not mean other than your individual witnessing of the real actor (fa‘il), not the metaphorical one; then witnessing the real object of attributions, not the metaphorical one; then witnessing the real existent, not the metaphorical one; then maintaining this witnessing until it consumes the senses and the mind. This is real spiritual solitude.

Saints and Heroes, Christic Peace and Unveiling

August 31st, 2021

Welcome to our August newsletter.

This month we present first two articles on aspects of sainthood, followed by a study on Christian initiation.

• Our first text is by Martin Lings, who takes the reader by the hand to disclose the metaphysical depths and symbolic associations of the “Archetypes of Devotional Homage”, including hero-worship and other forms of devotion.

The celestial archetype of fraternity and friendship is the communion of equals or near equals, between prophet and prophet, sage and sage, and between peers within other constellations of Spirits who are drawn together by their parity.

• Next, in his article “‘For He is Our Peace’: Thomas Aquinas on Christ as Cause of Peace in the City of the Saints”, Matthew A. Tapie sheds light on the foundational gift of peace bestowed by Christ, both on its individual and social aspects, like that of civic peace in times of war.

Christ’s gift of peace in John 14:27, for Aquinas, refers not only to the perfect state to be enjoyed in heaven but also to a true-but-imperfect ecclesial peace possessed by the saints now.

• We close our selection with a comparative study by Marco Pallis, “The Veil of the Temple: A Study of Christian Initiation.” With characteristic insight and breadth of scope, the author brings together Buddhist and Christian Orthodox Sources to probe the depths of contemplative life.

The two elements, bread and wine, figuring in the rite correspond, as many are aware, to the two great “dimensions” of spiritual life, “the exterior” and “the interior,” and therefore also to the two natures of Christ, human and divine, the realization of which the Eucharist is above all designed to bring about. When the bread is broken, the sacrifice is accomplished.

Sacred Music, the Seven Castles of the Soul, and Jewish-Muslim Encounters

July 31st, 2021

Welcome to our July newsletter.

We begin our monthly selection with an article on “Sacred Music and Hindu Religious Experience: From Ancient Roots to the Modern Classical Tradition.” It gives us a summary of the cosmological and spiritual import of traditional Hindu music, with links to listen to various pieces of the Khayal genre, shared by Muslim and Hindu artists alike. Read and listen!

Music is directly connected to the notion of Nada-Brahman or sacred sound. The lyrics contain the reference to Nada as divided into Anahata (unstruck sound) and Ahata (struck sound) and as being the source or fountainhead of the Svaras or musical notes, which are sung with reference to parts of the body and the twenty-two microtones.

• A contribution by Luce López-Baralt, “Teresa of Jesus and Islam: The Simile of the Seven Concentric Castles of the Soul”, explores medieval silent dialogues between Christians and Muslims, and how the cultural context in which a mystic lives may colour and help to give symbolic form to the experiences which are by nature beyond language.

You do not have to understand these dwellings one behind another like something in a thread; but instead, place your eyes on the center, which is the piece or palace where the king is, and consider it like a palmetto, which to arrive at the edible part has many coverings.

• We conclude with an historical article by Sara Sviri, “Jewish–Muslim Mystical Encounters in the Middle Ages,” carefully delineating the flow and exchange of metaphysical and mystical doctrines between East and West and between Jewish and Muslim communities in Al-Andalus. A number of fine points of comparative studies among the mightiest Kabbalistic and Sufi masters are discussed, including the various types and trends of Judaeo-Arabic spirituality within the major trends in Jewish mysticism.

It is the religious act in itself, in its concrete actuality and physicality, which reflects and embodies God’s creative powers. By carefully performing the commandments, the worshipper, in a mysterious way, participates in God’s work and its influence in the cosmos.

The Rose Blooming, Kumulipo Chant and Infinite Life

June 30th, 2021

Dear readers, welcome to our June newsletter.

• We are very happy to announce the publication of our latest title, When the Rose Blooms, a collection of spiritual aphorisms by Ali Lakhani, illustrated by Nigel Jackson and prefaced by Barry McDonald.

The geography of these utterances, each like a signpost, maps a vast and ancient territory in few words, tracing the frontiers of Prayer and Silence,
“If you let the silence within you sing to itself, you will become its song.”


• We bring next a new addition to our Sacred Audio Library, a recording of the Kumulipo (“Beginning-in-deep-darkness”), the native Hawaiian chant describing the origin of the universe and of the human race.

Under the surface meaning of the words lies the hidden meaning, or meanings, the kaona, as the Hawaiians say. A divine child, a sacred chief, Lono-i-ka-makahiki, is the cosmos described. It is his origin that begins in the deep darkness of the spirit world, in the intense darkness of the fruitful night of the Pleiades.

• Finally, we are grateful to present a new translation of the Infinite Life Sutra. Known also as The Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, this is a key text in Mahayana/Pure Land/Shin Buddhism, which has had and continues to have an unparalleled influence through the Far East.

With a single sound the Blessed One saves
each and every type of living thing
in a wondrous form he appears
for everyone to see

I wish to obtain the pure sound of a buddha
and broadcast the dharma across limitless realms
making known the methods
of discipline, concentration and energy
and penetrate the profound and subtle dharma

With knowledge and wisdom as vast as the ocean
and an inner mind purified, cleansed of all defilements
I shall transcend the limitless gateways to evil destinies and swiftly reach the distant shore.

Gardens of Heaven and Earth, Sufi Masters and Disciples, and a Marian Hymn

May 30th, 2021

Welcome to our May newsletter, dear readers.

We begin our monthly selection with a work by Michaela Eskew on the symbolism and practice of enclosed gardens, drawing from scriptural and liturgical sources, and from a wide range of medieval works of art.

The Garden of Eden set a tone that work was going to be needed to repair what had been broken. In order to mold the chaos back into order, humanity was going to have to labor, toil and work the earth. Humanity would have to act in God’s stead or (as some would believe) work with God to harness the wildness of nature… Through gardening and landscaping humanity could once again return to a moment of time and a parcel of space with the Creator.

Vierge a la rose
Vierge à la rose dans un jardin clos, 15th cent.

• In a chapter from the 18th-century Kitab al-Ibriz, The Book of Pure Gold, by Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh, we have an insight into “the office of the spiritual master and the sustained will (irada) to be a disciple.”

In the interior of every body there are three hundred and sixty-six veins, each vein bearing its own special attribute with which it was created. The knower of God endowed with deeper vision beholds these veins shining and aflame in their various characteristics… Thus if the knower of God looks at bodies, he sees each body like a lantern with three hundred and sixty-six candles fixed in it.

• Finally, we present an English translation of the most important and famous Christian Orthodox Hymn to the Virgin Mary, the “Akathistos to the Mother of God”. It is not only a treasure of theology and mystical insights, but also a prolonged evocation of the highest joy and of the combative aspect of Mary. Be sure to listen to the related recordings in our Sacred Audio Collection.

Rejoice, initiate of ineffable counsel;
Rejoice, faith of silent beseechers.
Rejoice, introduction to Christ’s miracles;
Rejoice, consummation of his doctrinal articles.
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down;
Rejoice, bridge leading those from earth to heaven.
Rejoice, marvel greatly renowned among the Angels;
Rejoice, wound bitterly lamented by demons.
Rejoice, for you gave birth to the light ineffably;
Rejoice, for the “how” you taught to no one.
Rejoice, surpassing the knowledge of scholars;
Rejoice, dawn that illumines the minds of believers.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!

A Sufi Dragon, Ethiopian Dabtaras, and the Flower Garland Sutra

April 30th, 2021

Welcome to our April newsletter.

We begin our selection with “A Mountain of Saints and Sages”, an article about a central shrine of the Sufi Qadiriyah order in China, the Pavilion of Lingering Illumination. This was one node in a vast network of Sufi zawiyas that stretched from China to Morocco. It was located at the foot of a mountain associated for centuries with martial power, both through the cult of Zhenwu and through the graves of Muslim generals and soldiers.

Muslims did not abandon fundamental tenets of monotheism while making religious and political sense of the deeply-rooted cosmological worldview around them, and many Muslims probably assumed that some of the deities worshipped by their non-Muslim neighbors—the Dragon King, Zhang Fei, and so on—were in actuality jinn or the angelic servants of the one “true” God.

• Next, in “The Musician and Transmission of Religious Tradition”, we have a glimpse of the liminal and revered figure of the Ethiopian darabtas, musician-healers and heirs to an elusive tradition of applied liturgical knowledge, or “white magic”.

On the one hand, he is respected for his knowledge and for his manipulation of powerful words in sung, spoken, and written forms; at the same time, his very ability to manipulate the sacred and magical links him simultaneously to the most revered and feared elements in the world of Ethiopian belief.

• Last, we present excerpts of the majestic Buddhist Flower Garland Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra), a work in which “not only deeply speculative minds find satisfaction, but humble spirits and heavily oppressed hearts, too, will have their burdens lightened.”

Keeping the mind as stable as diamond, believe in the supremacy of buddha-knowledge:
Knowing the mind-ground is selfless, then one can hear this subtle knowledge.
Like colors painted in the sky, like the wind in space—
So is this undefiled knowledge of Buddha hard to see, though it be defined.

We would like to draw your attention to the “Making Paradise: Exploring the concept of Eden through Art & Islamic Garden Design” exhibition, taking place at the Aga Khan Centre, London, 29 April – 30 September 2021.

Who Is Man, Seven Liberal Arts, and Kapleau’s Life

March 31st, 2021

Welcome to our March newsletter.

We begin our selection with a wide-ranging article by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Who Is Man? The Perennial Answer of Islam,” drawing particular attention to man’s relation to the natural environment and to the traditional and modern understanding of “science”.

To know himself, man must come to know the “Face of God,” the reality, that determines him from on high. Neither flights into outer space nor plunges beneath the seas, nor changes of fashions and modes of outward living alter the nature of man and his situation vis-à-vis the Real… And it is a remarkable feature of the human state, that no matter where and in what condition he may be, man always finds above him the sky and the attraction which pulls him toward the Infinite and the Eternal.

• We continue with Titus Burckhardt and his masterful brief essay, “The Seven Liberal Arts and the West Door of Chartres Cathedral.”

Chartres West Door

“Everything proceeding from the profound nature of things”, writes Boethius, the great transmitter of the quadrivium, “shows the influence of the law of number; for this is the highest prototype contained in the mind of the Founder. From this are derived the four elements, the succession of the seasons, the movement of the stars, and the course of the heavens”.

• Finally, we present an evocative and instructive biography of an American Zen master, “A Pillar of Zen: Roshi Philip Kapleau”, by Rafe Martin, one of Kapleau’s dharma heirs and continuators.

Most of us were only in our early twenties, and somewhat crazed. He stood at an ancient door, held it open wide, and said to us simply, ‘Come in. Work hard. The dharma will never let you down.’

The Wheel of Joy, Spirit Medicine, and the O Antiphons

February 28th, 2021

Welcome to our February newsletter.

• Our first new library addition this month is a commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, one of the key texts from the Kagyu or “Whispered Transmission” of Tibetan Buddhism.

Death is a continuation of birth. Death is not nothingness or a blank state; it is the time when we transfer our light to another way of being. With this understanding, we can see that it is possible to dedicate our lives toward bringing light into the world for future generations as well as for our own future.

Buddhist gankyil, ananda-chakra, or “wheel of joy”.

• In “Spirit Medicine”, a documentary by Marie Burke, we have an intimate portrait of the Cree traditional medicine as found in Canada, a way of healing fully atuned to a spirituality of nature.

We’re not doing a good job today. The Creator didn’t forget anything: we forgot to take care of ourselves. And then today, if we don’t read it in a book or in a paper, it don’t mean nothing. People don’t believe in things that are verbal… and they’re reading what other people believe.

• Finally, we present an article on the early Christian liturgical chants called the “O Antiphons”—seven brief and poignant verses associated with the Magnificat. They are sung or recited in Advent, each with a central heart-rending appeal: veni, “come”, and all together forming an acrostic of promise: ero cras, “Tomorrow, I will be there.”

Alchemical Insights, Goddess of the Sea, and Inspired Sense

January 31st, 2021

Welcome to our January newsletter!

Our library novelties this month include an “Insight into Alchemy” by Titus Burckhardt, detailing the essentials of the Sacred Art intended “to make of the body a spirit and of the spirit a body.”

It is through bodily consciousness, apparently closed in on itself, and within its innermost enclosure that the alchemist recovers this cosmic substance, Mercury. In order to “win it over” he relies on a bodily function, respiration, and this is significant for all spiritual arts related to alchemy; starting out from a physical modality, the consciousness, which is essentially intelligence, ascends through its own “sheaths” to arrive at the universal reality of which this modality is the reflection or echo. Such an integration cannot however be achieved without some kind of grace; it presupposes a sacred framework as well as an attitude excluding every kind of Promethean or egoistic adventure.

• We follow with an iconographic chapter on the maritime aspects of Guanyin, the Chinese goddess “who listens to the voices of the world.” As also explained by Burckhardt, this kind of sacred image is among those which most directly express the “spiritualization of the body and the embodying of the spirit.” Worshipped in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in her, or his, thirty-two different aspects, Guan Yin (Kannon in Japan) is a representative of the Far Eastern Triple Religion, and also the manifestation par excellence of divine feminine mercy through the Far East.

Guan Yin is a goddess that appears in sensation, in sight, touch, hearing and fragrances. Her forms are countless, and this is why there is a saying, “If you be modest and humble, you will meet Guan Yin everywhere.”

Guan Yin of the Sea
Guanyin crossing the sea. Shuanglin Monastery. Taiyuan, China.

• We close our selection with a chapter on the crucial place of the senses and “aesthetic” experience in the hierarchy of ever-ascending knowledge to the Divine, with curious notes on medieval handwarmers and pomanders.

In natural philosophy, smell competed with taste, which was often reputed superior for physical examinations. In the anonymous thirteenth­-century compendium Summa de saporibus, taste is described as that sense “ordained above all the other senses as properly and prin­cipally the investigator of the nature of things.”

No Other Word

January 11th, 2021

by Barry McDonald, 2020.

ISBN 978-1-908092-21-2

No Destination

Like all the blessings that a lifetime brings
The snowflakes fall and purify the night.
A sandalwood stick burns, a candle sings,
A man in silence prays for love and light.

Outside a snowy path leads to the world-
There is no destination but the Name.
Because one man invokes the saving Word
There glows through darkness an eternal flame.

Click here to view an excerpt of the book

Click here to buy through Wordery. Alternatively, buy through Amazon US, or Amazon UK.

This is a Matheson Trust publication, click here to view other Matheson Trust publications.

Knots Untied, Rabbi Nachman, and Bread Making

December 29th, 2020

Welcome to our final newsletter of the year.

• Our first library highlight is an article by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy on the symbolism of knots, and on Dürer and Leonardo, with important considerations on Renaissance art and craftsmanship.

All determinations or knots are bonds from which one could wish to be freed rather than remain forever “all tied up in knots.” One would be released from all those “knots of the heart,” which we should now call “complexes” and of which the ego-complex (ahamkara, abhimana, Philo’s oiesis) is the tightest and the hardest to be undone… In Sanskrit also, to be independent (“on one’s own hook”) is expressed by the significant term sva-tantra, “being one’s own thread, string or wire’; we are not, then, if we “know our Self,” the knot, but the thread in which the knot is tied or on which beads are strung.
Duerer Knot

• We present next a selection of spiritual aphorisms by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the greath 18th-century Hasidic master, shedding light on subtle aspects of prayer and realisation through music.

The secret of prayer is to be bold. We must have the audacity to ask God for everything we need—even if we need to ask Him to work miracles for us. Only with boldness and daring can we stand up and pray to God.

When we consider God’s utter greatness—if we can form any conception of it at all—and think of our own smallness and worthlessness, how can we stand up and pray before Him? Even so, when we pray, we must cast our timidity aside and boldly ask God for everything we need. Only with bold assertiveness can we overcome the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of our service of God.

• And we conclude the year with a brief article on the alchemy and symbolism of bread making: from the grain and the harvest, through mixing and kneading, to the baking of the soul’s “ingredients”—a craft and an alchemy, an alchemy and a craft.

As the rough grain is transformed into fine flour that is suitable for our consumption, so we “grind” ourselves, rid ourselves of weakness, passion, and pride—and into a substance capable for His deliverance. Water is mixed with flour to create dough. The water is also religion, from religio (“that which binds”); it is baptism and submission under orthodoxy. Then comes the process of kneading…

Heart Prayer, the Oupnek’hat, and Lives of Man

November 29th, 2020

Welcome to our November newsletter!

• We begin our selection with a new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection: audio recordings of the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart”, as used in the Orthodox churches from the earliest times. We present authentic recordings, directly from within the Greek monastic hesychast tradition.

   kyrie eleison

• Next, as a landmark of Comparative Religion studies, we share a parallel-text edition of the Oupnek’hat. This first European translation of the Upanishad was made from the Persian and influenced generations of Western scholars.

The Self is in the heart. There are the 101 arteries, and in each of them there are a hundred smaller veins, and for each of these branches there are 72,000. In these the backbreathing moves. Through one of them, the Udana (the outbreathing) leads us upwards to the good world by good work, to the bad world by bad work, to the world of men by both.

• Finally, in an excerpt from a Sufi work by the revered Yemeni master ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad, we present three chapters on the “lives of man,” from the immediacy of death to the vision of God in the afterlife.

The Intermediate Realm is the abode which lies between the world and the life-to-come. It has more affinity with the latter, and is in fact a part of it. It is a place where spirits and spiritual things are predominant, while physical bodies are secondary but share with the spirits in their experiences, whether felicity and joy, or torment and grief.

An Algonquin Sage, Uncreated Icons and Flute Melodies

October 31st, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter.

• Our first library highlight this month is a video interview of the late Algonquin chief and sage Ojigkwanong, “Morning Star”, telling us about his own path to reconciliation through forgiveness.

…very early in the morning, it was still dusk. Through the window, I heard a bird singing outside. It made me cry. I had never experienced crying before. But it did something to me that touched my heart.

• We have two articles on the inspired sacred art described traditionally as “not created by hand” or “person-less” (Greek, acheiropoieta; Sanskrit apaurusheya). First, from the visual arts, an article by Aidan Hart on “Sacred Icons”.

Many visitors say that they “feel at home” in… churches filled with icons. And they are in fact at home, because all of us were created to live in Paradise.

• And then a musical equivalent from Japan, and a new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection. Two recordings of one of the great themes of the Zen school dubbed “Shakuhachi Zen”, “the Zen of blowing the flute” (suizen), where wandering monks, who looked “neither like monks nor like laypeople”, have spoken of “attaining buddhahood through one sound” (ichion-jobutsu) and of “Buddhahood in a single note.”

Sufism and Ancient Wisdom

October 13th, 2020

by Algis Uzdavinys, 2020.

ISBN 978-1-901383-37-9

Our aim is to discern a few metaphysical and mythical patterns sufficient to show the common background and continuity (albeit through constant transformations and readaptations) of those socio-spiritual tendencies that may be attested from ancient Mesopotamia to the theocratic empire of Islam. Regarded as the restored religion of Abraham (din Ibrahim), Islam forms the top of a huge and multi-coloured iceberg. Therefore, its theory of prophethood (the specifically Semitic conception, which is de jure metaphysical, but de facto constitutes the realm of Islamic mythology) in its potential application should not be restricted to the limited world of a few Semitic tribes. For any Muslim scholar who treats the Islamic tradition of thousands upon thousands of prophets seriously (both in its symbolic sense and as an indication that islam, as the ‘primordial tradition’, is universal), neither ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian, nor Graeco-Roman spirituality, are to be excluded from the list of ‘true’ and ‘revealed’ religions.

Click here to view an excerpt of the book

Click here to buy through Wordery. Alternatively, buy through Amazon US, or Amazon UK.

This is a Matheson Trust and Archetype co-publication, click here to view other Matheson Trust co-publications.

Seven Dragons, Time and Aeviternity

September 30th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter.

• We open our selection with an audio recording of a Friday sermon given in Cambridge by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. Starting from the Prophetic injunction to “Beware of the seven destructive ones,” the Shaykh speaks of seven poisonous tendencies lurking as demons or dragons in the recesses of the heart.

Society requires people who are able to trascend themselves. We need adults, we need people of futuwwa, people of youthful maturity who hold that sword, which is the two-pointed sword of Imam ‘Ali, one point of which is against the enemies of justice in the world, and the other point of which faces the enemies within.

• We continue with a section from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s Time and Eternity, illustrating and explaining the meanings of time and of eternity, “the one, in which all things come and go, and the other, in which all stand immutable.”

Because “all change is a dying,” as our whole tradition recognizes, every meeting is a meeting for the first time, and every parting is forever. Meetings and partings (of which birth and death are but special cases) are only possible in time, and they please or grieve us only because “we” are or, rather, mistakenly identify ourselves with, the mutable psycho-physical tabernacles that our Self assumes.

Gautier de Metz cosmos

• And finally a dialogue by one of the lesser known early modern Spanish mystics, Fray Juan de los Angeles, on “The Conquest of the Divine Kingdom.” Young Brother Desirous, whose foremost desire “is to be inwardly that which I appear to be on the outside,” receives from his master a teaching which “does not permit divided attention, nor a man distracted and beside himself,” and he is not disappointed:

I never realized that there are within us such great riches nor that there exists such a wonderful and satisfying centre.

Skeletons, Cosmic Cycles, Stars and Saints

August 30th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter!

Our first selection is a famous Zen classic by 15th century master Ikkyu, “The Skeletons”, a poignant and lyrical memento mori, with echoes of the imagery of the European danse macabre and even of the Mexican Day of the Dead.

When are we not in a dream, when are we not skeletons, after all? Under the flesh which you now care for and enjoy, this skeleton is wrapped up and set in motion; you should acquiesce to this idea—in this there is no difference between high and low, old and young. Only when you awaken to the condition of the one great matter will you know the imperishable truth.

Ikkyu drawing
Drawing attributed to Ikkyu himself, from a 1692 edition.

• Next, we are glad to present a chapter from the masterful and concise exposition of the principles of traditional astrology and cosmology by Titus Burckhardt.

The first reason of all cycles of manifestation is the deployment of the principial possibilities of manifestation, symbolised by the series of Divine Names. On the other hand, the science of the Names or the Divine Qualities constitutes the supreme conclusion of all sacred science.

• We complete our selection with a scholarly article by Noah Gardiner, “Stars and Saints”, showing how the medieval world view of Sufi cosmology “cut across the borders modern scholarship has sought to erect between the histories of theology, mysticism, philosophy, and science.”

Rather than merely reading the Quranic and celestial “texts,” the Sufis’ souls and bodies are the channels through which God’s world-making speech is most purely manifested and disposed.

Play of Masks, African Sufism, and Game Symbolism

July 31st, 2020

Thinking of the now ubiquitous face coverings we habitually call masks, it may be worth drawing attention to the difference between the two. We present a chapter by Frithjof Schuon on the deepest meanings of the mask (the Latin persona), its essential relation to symbolism, and its implications for spiritual life.

Jivatma, the “living soul”, is the mask-individual that is illusorily and innumerably superimposed on Atma, or on the one “Self”… The body and the soul are two masks superimposed on the spirit, which in its substance remains unlimited and immutable.

Indian mask

• We have a new article on the rich tradition of West African Sufism, particularly on the Kashif al-Ilbas (the “Removal of the Covering”), by one of the most influential Tijani Sufi masters, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, illustrating the essential paradox of Sufi writing: putting the ineffable experience of God into words.

The perfected one is he who combines
The two states of rapture and seeking, it is he who progresses with speed
May Allah include us among such perfected ones
Who have become truly enraptured, but continued traveling the path.

• We complete our selection with a chapter on the cosmological and psychological symbolism of traditional board games, explaining how they give shape to a ritual or sacred space, and developing the sacred symbol/myth/rite triad that forms the basis of ancient spiritual traditions.

The organic harmony that a finished board game represents, connects with the idea of the end of struggle and conflict. As explained at the beginning, board games need to have a degree of uncertainty. At the end of the game, this uncertainty is resolved and the microcosm that the game represents achieves a final position.

Chinese Qin Music, Saint Amaro, and the Dao

June 30th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly update!

We begin our selection with an article on “Music as a Tool for Self-Realization in Chinese Culture, Based on the Practice of Playing the Guqin.” We provide links to recordings of traditional interpreters of this unique instrument, known as “the instrument of the sages” and as “the father of Chinese music.”

Chinese philosophers believed that the unique sound of the qin (soft, quiet, and attenuating easily, thanks to the strings made of boiled silk threads) is a sound that clears the mind (makes the mind become a mirror—Zhuangzi) and then changes the perception level from differentiated phenomena to undifferentiated unity.

Guqin Player

• Echoing our recent post on Saint Brendan, we have a new article on his Iberian counterpart, Saint Amaro, another pilgrim saint and mystic navigator who is all but unknown among English speakers. In her article, “The Voyage of Saint Amaro: A Spanish Legend in Nahuatl Literature,” Louise Burkhart not only introduces St Amaro’s magical ocean voyage to earthly Paradise, but she also shows how elements of Nahuatl mythology came to be mingled with the story in a Mexican version.

And then on the wind he saw the noblewoman, Saint Mary. She was resplendent. The way she was shining, she surpassed all illumination. Then Saint Amalo swooned. His precious ones thought the world quaked. Then Saint Mary consoled him, encouraged him. She said to him, “May you not be afraid. Amalo. I have come to rescue you because you prayed to me so fervently.”

• To conclude, we present a brief selection of texts from the Tao Te Ching, the foundational text of Taoism and one of the most daunting and yet appealing of the great scriptures of the world. Our bilingual text is accompanied by an original audio recording of the original Mandarin.

Those who are skilled in the Dao do not dispute about it; the disputatious are not skilled in it. Those who know the Dao are not extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it. The sage does not accumulate for himself. The more that he expends for others, the more does he possess of his own; the more that he gives to others, the more does he have himself

Weil on Prayer, a Voyage, and Friendship through Centuries

May 30th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter!

The first of our highlights is a very brief and compelling text by Simone Weil on her experience with the Lord’s Prayer. In a few lines she gives us a very practical method for deep contemplative prayer, and a glimpse into the depths of her metaphysical insights and her mystical experience.

I have made a practice of saying it through once each morning with absolute attention. If during the recitation my attention wanders or goes to sleep in the minutest degree, I begin again until I have once succeeded in going through it with absolutely pure attention.

• We follow with an article on one of the great early Christian classics on the symbolism of travelling, sailing and pilgrimage in general, the 9th century Navigatio sancti Brendani, The Voyage of St Brendan.

Brendan is explicitly told that the length of his journey is God’s will; he only reaches the island when he and his monks are ready… The distance between the Promised Land of the Saints and Ireland is measured in morality not length and breadth… The terra repromissionis is not distant and inhospitable Newfoundland. It is hidden beyond a gate whose opening is next door to Ireland; paradise is at home. For those who are worthy it is just around the corner and on the horizon.

St Brendan ahoy

• And we complete our update with a mystical connection through the centuries and traditions, between the Sufi Khwaja Abdullah Ansari and Fr. Serge de Beaurecueil.

He who knows three things is saved from three things:
Whoever knows that the Creator made no mistakes at Creation
is saved from cavilling.
Whoever knows that He made no favouritism in allotting fortune
is saved from jealousy.
Whoever knows of what he is created
is saved from pride.

Paths, Playing Cards with God, and Gregorian Voices

April 30th, 2020

Welcome to our April newsletter!

We are happy to announce the publication of our latest title, Paths That Lead to the Same Summit, by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos, a collection of carefully selected reviews on spiritual literature, meant as “a guide to aid the seeker on a pilgrimage through the distinct religious and spiritual universes and to convey and remember what is at the heart of each of the revealed sapiential traditions, the one Truth hidden in all the forms.”

…those who read this book will in some way discover the road they are walking along, and the one they ought to follow if they want to reach the summit.

Paths cover

• Given the current renewed interest on all kinds of family games, we bring a very special insight into the mysticism of playing cards, through the writings of Portuguese Carmelite Mother Mariana da Purificação (1623–95), who in her autobiographical writings recorded some moving and thought-provoking scenes, from the heart of contemplative Christianity, and yet with a distinct echo of the Hindu and universal doctrine of lila, the divine play and playfulness.

“You, daughter of my heart, should play cards. If you win you may take Communion tomorrow.” At this, I broke out laughing, because I did not even know how to play, nor would the nuns let me go downstairs, as I was bleeding. I was sure that I would not be allowed to go to Communion, even if I were to win. “I shall teach you to win,” He said to me gracefully…

He became very happy, as if He were not the lord of everything. Fooling around with me, he said to me that, if I wanted to win, I should play again. And playing again, I won without knowing how to play.

• Finally, we present an introductory page and links to the Neumz Project, based at the Benedictine Abbey of Jouques, near Aix-en-Provence, where they are engaged in “the largest recording project ever undertaken: the complete Gregorian Chant”. We warmly encourage you to listen to their Holy Week liturgy, which is beyond description and a musical doorway to Paradise; sacred art at its very best.

Yogaswami, Metaphysics of Noah’s Ark and the Letter Nun

March 31st, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter.

We start our selection with a series of biographical notes and pictures of Yogaswami, the “Lion of Lanka” (1872–1964), a great representative of the highest Hindu Shaivite spirituality from Sri Lanka.

You must meditate in the morning and evening and at night before you go to bed. Just pronounce the name “Shiva”, and sit quietly for about two minutes. You will find everything in your life falling into place and your prayers answered.

• Next, we present two complementing articles on Noah, the patron saint of quarantine, and master of the rainbow of hope. Both articles elucidate aspects of the Flood and the Ark, including their deepest metaphysical interpretation and their cosmic temporal symbolism. First, “The Flood in Hindu Tradition” by Ananda Coomaraswamy.

The more proximate genesis and guidance of humanity in each kalpa and manvantara is brought about by a Patriarch (pitr) of angelic ancestry, and designated Manu or Manus… Each Manu is a determined and conscious survivor from the previous manvantara, and through him the sacred tradition is preserved and transmitted.

Noahs Ark-Beatus Apocalypse, Manchester
Noah’s Ark, from a Beatus Apocalypse manuscript in Manchester.

• And second, an article by René Guénon on “The Mysteries of the Arabic Letter Nun”:

To understand the question properly it should be remembered that Vishnu, manifesting himself in the form of a fish (matsya), commands Satyavrata, the future Manu Vaivasvata, to construct the Ark in which the seeds of the future world are to be enclosed, and that, in this same form, he then guides the Ark over the waters during the cataclysm which marks the separation of two successive Manvantaras. The role of Satyavrata is here similar to that of Sayyidna Nuh (Noah), whose Ark also contains all those elements which are destined to survive until the restoration of the world after the deluge.

May we remind our readers, in these times of recollection and introspection, that the riches of our Library are as ever free to use and to share, and that we are as committed as ever to only distribute and offer what is conducive to “the one thing needful,” and to be in a humble way a little Ark of Noah, carrying seeds of wisdom towards a new world. Be our guests!

St Catherine’s Library, and the Jasmine in the Heart

February 28th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter.

• We open our February selection with a brief text about the library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, where the profound contemplative life of the monks has been accompanied over the centuries by their scholarly and philological endeavours.

Following in the footsteps of John Klimakos and the Desert Fathers, the monks of Saint Catherine’s climb the Ladder of Divine Ascent rung by rung, renouncing the world in anticipation of the apocatastasis, the ‘restitution of all things in God’.

• We are also pleased to add to our Sacred Audio Collection a moving example of Punjabi Islamic spirituality, with one of the best known songs by the revered Sufi master Sultan Bahu: Alif Allah chambe di booti, “The Name Allah is like a jasmine planted by the master in my heart.”

Repeating “Allah!” you’ve memorized Him, but the veils have not gone.
You’ve become a learned scholar through constant study, but still you seek gold.
You’ve read thousands of books, but your cruel soul will not die.
Bahu, none but the mystics have killed this inner thief.

Enjoy listening!

The Pearl of Eternity, Colours of Intention, and Syriac Chants

January 25th, 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter!

We open our selection with the long due addition of a text by the English mystic William Law, from his book, Wholly for God: the True Christian Life, about turning to the heart, how to do it and what is found there.

Thou needest not, therefore, run here, or there, saying, “Where is Christ?” Thou needest not say, “Who shall ascend into heaven, that is, to bring Christ down from above? or who shall descend into the deep, to bring Christ up from the dead?” for behold the Word, which is the Wisdom of God, is in thy heart.

• In his article “Visualization of Colors according to David ben Yehudah he-Hasid’s Kabbalistic Diagram”, Moshe Idel considers the doctrinal and historical implications of recently found manuscripts by an early master of Jewish esoterism, discussing and representing with diagrams the visualization of colors as part of the kavvanah or “intention” during prayer.

There are ten sefirot that are circles and spheres, like a wheel, and some of them are like branches that expand from the root. And the example of it is the encompassing sphere of the spheres, and the example of it is the tree that has branches and branches of branches, and branches of branches of branches of branches.

• We invite you to listen to the latest addition to our Sacred Audio Collection, a Syriac Orthodox Chant, “Like the Merchants” (Akh tagorye), in which the power of the ancient musical form and the Aramaic phonetics is added to the traditional lyrics about the sanctification of menial work. Click here to listen to two interpretations.

Like the merchants, the martyrs entered into battle. They shed their blood in order to obtain spiritual wealth, in the manner of skilled merchants.

Maori Education, Eight Trigrams, and the Solitary Bird

December 30th, 2019

Welcome to our December newsletter!

We open our selection with an article by Lesley Rameka on the traditional principles of education among the Maori, based on the godliness or spiritual essence that “each child inherits from their ancestors when they are born.”

The child is viewed as being born with three ira (essences) which are linked to whakapapa (cosmic ancestry). The first essence is te Ira Tangata or the essence of or links to both sets of parents. The second is te Ira Wairua or the essence of and links to ancestors. The third is Ira Atua or the essence of and links to the gods.

In his article “The Eight Trigrams and Their Changes,” Matthias Hayek presents a genre of ancient Japanese divination techniques based on the Bagua trigrams. This hakke-uranai, a form of hemerology or horoscopy, was used to decipher mundane events through a process of encoding and decoding reality in symbolical terms. It was considered a kind of philology and it was the preserve of monks or priests, or “religious specialists”, all part of a cosmology rooted in the sexagesimal calendar, and therefore, eventually, all but erased and made into “superstition” (an incoherent residue) by the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

• Finally, to close the year on a melodious note, we bring the succinct and compelling “Qualities of the Solitary Bird” from St John of the Cross’ Sayings of Light and Love.

The fourth trait is that it sings very sweetly. And so does the spirit sing sweetly to God at this time, for the praises it renders him are of the most delightful love, pleasant to the soul and precious in God’s eyes.


Sacred Architecture, Silent Dhikr, and Wild Stones

November 30th, 2019

Welcome to our November newsletter!

Our first new selection this month is “Twelve Criteria for Sacred Architecture”, a key and influential article by master geometer Keith Critchlow, laying out the principles distilled from a lifetime of study and practice of traditional architecture.

A sacred edifice in the highest or fullest sense is a crystallization of the principles of the civilization that it expresses.This means that the frozen melodies are available, so to speak, to the conscious awareness of any receptive experiencer, regardless of time. The experiencer becomes the musician who is able to release or appreciate the meaning within the sacred building. In this way it is true to say that a magnificent cathedral is built as much for the single individual’s enlightenment as it is for the experience of a collectivity.

• In “Spiritual Discipline and Psychic Power”, renowned author James Cowan introduces us to the initiatic world of the karadji (kurdaitcha), the masters called “wild stones” among the Australian Aborigines, and thus to little-known aspects of the Dreaming, the “fragile place” which is their “spiritual abode” and “place of metaphysical repose”.

In the context of Aboriginal society the making of a karadji, or clever man, is a vocation like any other spiritual discipline; few men are called to it and even fewer survive the psychic terrors that are so often inherent in its attainment… The prefix “clever” appertaining to a karadji means much more than adroitness, neat in movement, skillful or dexterous… it fails to convey fully the intellectual qualification required in order to become a karadji, “seizing what is imperceptible”, to bridge the gap between what is manifested and the spirit-world of the Dreaming.

Garimala Yakar. Still from “The Men of the Fifth World”.

• In his article “Movement and Stillness in Sufi Dhikr”, Shahzad Bashir explores the medieval practice of the remembrance of God in Central Asian orders, particularly in the Naqshbandi tradition, and in the light of contemporary mindfulness and meditation techniques.

The comparison between dhikr and meditation is instructive for highlighting the fact that our modern understanding of meditation is also premised on a particular conception of the human person that is far from universal. The idea that individual practice is localizable to a single person rests on the notion of individual sovereignty and it has acquired an aura of universality and inevitability only since the worldwide spread of modern western ideas.

Orthodox Gems, Gaelic Psalms, and Dream Yoga

October 30th, 2019

Welcome to our October newsletter!

We open our monthly selection with a collection of aphorisms titled “On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works.” Attributed to St Mark The Ascetic, one of the Holy Fathers from the Philokalia, these little gems from the heart of the Orthodoxy are full of penetrating insights, glimpses into the alchemical spiritual psychology known as the “science of vices and virtues.”

When rain falls upon the earth, it gives life to the quality inherent in each plant: sweetness in the sweet, astringency in the astringent; similarly, when grace falls upon the hearts of the faithful, it gives to each the energies appropriate to the different virtues without itself changing.

Mark Ascetic icon
Russian icon of St Mark the Ascetic

• As the latest addition to our Sacred Audio Collection, we present a recording of Gaelic Psalm Chanting from the Outer Hebrides. This particular way of congregational singing, possibly of ancient origin, has been discreetly and vigorously preserved in Scotland and only in a few other and diverse Christian communities in America.

• Finally, we present an introduction to the subtleties of “dream yoga” (svapnadarshana / milam), as cultivated with great detail in the Tibetan tradition. Our excerpts by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche reveal hidden depths at every turn, while warning us: “How subtle our understanding must become and how easily we can get lost! This is why practice is necessary, in order to have direct experience rather than just developing another conceptual system to elaborate and defend.”

The first step in dream practice is quite simple: one must recognize the great potential that dream holds for the spiritual journey. Normally the dream is thought to be “unreal,” as opposed to “real” waking life. But there is nothing more real than dream. This statement only makes sense once it is understood that normal waking life is as unreal as dream, and in exactly the same way. Then it can be understood that dream yoga applies to all experience, to the dreams of the day as well as the dreams of the night.

Kebra Nagast, A Good Life, and a Luminous Darkness

September 30th, 2019

Welcome to our September newsletter.

This month our library highlights include a fascinating extract from the Kebra Nagast, the foundational scripture of the Ethiopian church and imperial dynasty, originating from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

And Solomon was working at the building of the House of God, and he rose up and went to the right and to the left, and forward and backward. And he showed the workmen the measurement and weight and the space covered… And everything was wrought by his order, and there was none who set himself in opposition to his word; for the light of his heart was like a lamp in the darkness, and his wisdom was as abundant as the sand. And of the speech of the beasts and the birds there was nothing hidden from him, and he forced the devils to obey him by his wisdom.

• We also have an audio recorded talk by Rowan Williams, ‘What Is a “Good Life”?’, about unexamined instincts and the meaning and scope of an individual and human ‘habitat’ and ‘ecology’, to be cared for and cultivated as a garden; and about how we learn to respond to our environment with ‘an inseparable intelligence and charity’.

A good life is not a comfortable life. It is a life which can be honest about its own fragility, because it knows something about where it lives… To look deeply into an understanding of it is to look towards the freedom that attention gives.

• And finally an article by William Wroth, “In That Luminous Darkness”, on the works of Spanish poet Vicente Pascual Rodrigo, including a selection of translations, and a delicate appreciation of the depths of these poems and of ‘metaphysical’ poetry in general.

Love of another causes the individual to step out of the imperious confines of the ego, to die to the natural egocentricity of the little self for the sake of the other.

En tu ausencia
nada encuentro.
Ni aun siquiera la nostalgia,
ni aun siquiera larga espera.

In your absence
I find nothing.
Not even longing,
nor even expectation.

The Craft of the Heart, Seeing the Saints, and the Maiden of Ludmir

August 30th, 2019

Welcome to our August newsletter!

We bring to our readers one of the most comprehensive works by Ajaan Lee, the renowned master in the Thai Buddhist Forest Tradition. The Craft of the Heart includes teachings on every level—elementary, intermediate, and advanced—so that the reader can conveniently pick out the teachings appropriate for his or her own level of attainment.

You who are wisely intent on the savor of right attainment, who desire the happiness of nibbana, should devote yourselves to the practices mentioned above. Don’t let yourselves grow weary, don’t let yourselves be faint in the practice of these two forms of meditation… They will form an island, a shore, a refuge and a home for you… they will lead you to mundane happiness and relief from the dread of sorrow. But if your perfections are fully developed, you will gain the heartwood of release.

• Paul Fenton’s article, “The Ritual Visualization of the Saint in Jewish and Muslim Mysticism”, describes the practice called in Sufi circles tasawwur “depiction” or takhayyul “imagination”, which comprises a reciprocal attitude: “the orientation of the heart of the master towards that of the disciple”, and “the orientation of the disciple’s heart towards the shaykh”. This applies either with the soul of a living mentor or with that of a deceased master, and entails a ritual involving concentration, often carried out at the saint’s tomb.

Rachel Tomb
Rachel’s Tomb (Qever Rahel/Qabr Rahil) in Bethlehem.

• Finally, we present a biographical extract about the Maiden of Ludmir, a famous 19th century Ukrainian Jewish saint, whose life shows many parallels to the lives of Christian women saints.

If I live it is only to be able to continue learning God’s Torah, to delve more deeply into the secrets of the Yotser (Creator) and the Yetsirah (Creation) and I will fully renounce all pleasures of the world.

• We invite you to a week of musical events with Marc Loopuyt, renowned master of the oud and the flamenco guitar, who will give three performance-lectures and two workshops in London and Cambridge by the end of September. This will be a unique opportunity to experience the living tradition of the king of instruments. Follow this link for further details and to book your place.

Ignatian and Hesychast Prayer, Central Asian Sufi Music

July 30th, 2019

Welcome to our July newsletter!

• One of our most recent library additions is an article by Tim Noble on common traits of Ignatian and Hesychast Spirituality, exploring some of the shared fundamentals between Catholic and Orthodox approaches to prayer.

Hesychast and Ignatian spiritualities can be seen as guide books for the journey of divinization. As with all guide books, they are necessarily partial, informed by the background of their writers and practitioners, in dialogue with the Scriptures and a broader hermeneutic community.

• We are happy to present some excerpts from a pioneering book by Razia Sultanova, “From Shamanism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Culture in Central Asia,” about the musical tradition where Tengrism and Islam meet in a synthesis of archaic and timeless subtlety and power.

Every performance of this song awakens an image of zikr based on a long developed flow of tension in the form of dynamic waves to culmination and back to the foundation. It is a classical song about spiritual assimilation with God and symbolises the Sufi way to perfection. Despite political and cultural pressure on the texts that have been transformed over the last century, the music continues in the same traditional way.

• To complement the text above, we present a recording by Munojot Yulchiyeva, hailed as one of the greatest performers of classical Uzbek music and Shashmaqam, “the only one who managed to absorb the essence of the Sufi singing style.”

Munojot herself

• Forthcoming UK events: Between 25 September and 1 October we welcome Marc Loopuyt, renowned master of the oud and the flamenco guitar, for three performance-lectures and workshops. This will be a unique opportunity to experience the living tradition of the king of instruments. Follow this link for further details.

“Puppet Complex”, the Essence of Virtue, and the Mystery of Ali

June 29th, 2019

Welcome to our June newsletter.

In an exceptional article, even by his own standards, Ananda Coomaraswamy explores the traditional answers given to the Upanishad question: “Do you know that Thread, by which, and that Inner Controller by whom this world and the other and all beings are strung together and controlled from within, so that they move like a puppet, performing their respective functions?”

To believe in one’s own or another’s “personality” or “individuality” is animism. In the traditional philosophy it is emphasized that “personalities” are inconstants, ever changing and never stopping to “be”; “we” are not entities, but processes… The first step on the way to a liberation from “the mother of illusions,” and so toward an “infinite happiness,” is to have realized by a demonstration that “this (body and mind) is not my Self,” that there is no such thing as a “personality” anywhere to be found in the world.

In his article “A Genealogical Study of De”, Professor Huaiyu Wang explores the ancient Chinese texts and explains the original range of meanings of the crucial term de. In a discussion often close to the Hindu concept of dharma, this same Te of Tao Te Ching, often translated as virtue, is revealed as the very “pontifical” human ability to harmonize spiritual endowment with sacrificial offering.

First, de signifies the gift of being, the endowment of spiritual power sponsoring the myriad kinds of lives between sky and earth. Second, it designates the spiritual power that heaven and dead ancestors confer upon the sovereign in the form of “boon and benediction.” Third, it refers to the beneficence of the sovereign toward his subordinate noblemen and the common people.De ideograms
Modern (left) and ancient forms of the character De.

• We are happy to announce the publication of our latest title, Imam Ali From Concise History to Timeless Mystery, by Reza Shah-Kazemi, and thus to bring to a larger audience new facets of the great Islamic paragon of forbearance and initiatic wisdom.

When we look at the life, the teachings and the holiness of Imam ‘Ali, we see not what we are, but what we can be: a true human being, made in the image of God. Contemplating the face of ‘Ali’s perfect sanctity reveals something of what is hidden in the depths of our own humanity.

Your attention is drawn to the forthcoming event “Medieval Mystics in Conversation: An Evening of Mystical Poetry and Chant”, organised by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, on 30 June.

The Intermediate State, Perennial Philosophy, and Juz’ Amma

May 30th, 2019

We are happy to share with our readers two new pages introducing the Bardo Thodol or “Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State”, often known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We present a Commentary showing the relevance of these teachings to our daily deaths and rebirths, and two recordings of “The Precious Garland” in our Sacred Audio Collection.

Bar means ‘in between’, and do means ‘island’ or ‘mark’; a sort of landmark which stands between two things. It is rather like an island in the midst of a lake. The concept of bardo is based on the period between sanity and insanity, or the period between confusion and the confusion just about to be transformed into wisdom; and of course it could be said of the experience which stands between death and birth.

• In his article “Perennial Philosophy and the Recovery of a Theophanic View of Nature”, Jeremy Naydler explores the roots and considers the redressal of our broken relation to nature and the environment.

The perennial philosophy reminds us that our fundamental orientation as human beings should be towards spirit, that we should revere the natural world as the manifestation of the divine, and that we should affirm the possibility of an ever more conscious union between ourselves and the spiritual source of existence.

• To conclude with another new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection, we present a selection of recordings of the last 30th of the Qur’an, Juz’ ‘Amma, including some of the most evocative and majestic short chapters of the Islamic revelation.

Science Examined, The Origin of ‘Scripture’, and Kabbalistic Retreats

April 30th, 2019

Welcome to our April newsletter!
Our first new library addition this month is an article by Philip Sherrard, “Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man”, a close and detailed look at the foundations of contemporary science, considering them in relation to the traditional pre-modern and religious worldview.

The smell of the rose is still as much the smell of the rose for us as it was for Plato and, in spite of all, our lives are still punctuated by moments of grace and beauty and love… In this sense, everything is still in its place and nothing has been lost. Indeed, since the worldview of modern science is basically false, it cannot ultimately affect the truth of things, however much it may appear to do so. The norm of human and natural existence always remains.

• In a recent contribution, “The Qur’an in Comparison and the Birth of ‘scriptures’”, we can read about early analogies between Homeric poetry and the Qur’an, and we can appreciate the importance of Qur’anic studies in the development of comparative religion as a field of study.

From the outset, the rise of Islam prompted European observers to ask what explained its tremendous success. How had the Qur’an’s teachings won so many hearts, and so quickly?

• Finally, in his article “Solitary Meditation in Jewish and Islamic Mysticism”, Paul Fenton gives us a glimpse at the close relations and methodical parallels between the Sufi practice of solitary retreat, khalwa, and the Kabbalist hitbodedut in Safed (Tzefat), one of the four holy cities of Judaism.

It must be borne in mind that at the time of the inception of Qabbalistic activity in the Land of Israel in the last quarter of the 13th century, Safed, the cradle of Palestinian Qabbalah, was a vibrant centre of Muslim commerce and culture.

A Missed Image

March 30th, 2019

After some recent technical improvements behind the scenes, we are confident that our readers, especially in India, the Far East and Oceania, will have felt major improvements in our website responsiveness and speed. Unfortunately, as a side-effect of these recent changes, one of the image links in yesterday’s newsletter was broken, and you may have missed what we consider to be a very beautiful and powerful image of the Ethiopian saint, Mother Walatta Petros. Here it is again, with our apologies and best wishes. The image goes with the anatomical poem in her praise, and it reminds strongly of the French poet’s intuition that “Only birds, children and saints are of any interest” («Il n’y a que les oiseaux, les enfants et les saints qui soient intéressants»).

Walatta Petros with doves

The Great War, an Ethiopian Saint, Sufism and Yoga

March 29th, 2019

We are happy to announce the publication of our latest title, The Great War of the Dark Age: Keys to the Mahabharata.

Keys cover

This collection of essays has something of an introduction to the greatest Indian epic poem, and it has much of a meditation on the universal and deepest themes found through its verses. With a penetrating eye for the nuances and implications of Sanskrit terminology, and for doctrinal and formal analogies in world literature and other faiths, Dominique Wohlschlag has once again succeeded in treating his majestic subject with a light touch, making clear in many ways that “the great war” and the Mahabharata entire are within our souls.

• From the rich tradition of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, we have a seventeenth century hagiographic poem, the “Portrait of Walatta Petros,” surely one of the most striking applications found in sacred literature of the Biblical principle that the “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Walatta Petros with doves

In his article “Yogic-Sufi Homologies”, Toby Mayer not only brings to light detailed parallels between Kubrawi Sufi and Tibetan Buddhist traditions of self transformation, but above all he draws attention to the presence of a discreet continuum of spiritual practices, from the heart of Asia to the farthest reaches of Sufism on the Atlantic shores.

That the proximity of Indic yogic traditions, but also Turkish shamanistic and Iranian Mazdean cultures, predisposed eastern Sufism… should not be simply viewed as a process of “borrowing”. Rather, the challenge of these competing models perhaps provoked local Sufi teachers to stress and explore possibilities intrinsic to the Islamic tradition itself, possibilities rooted in the Qur’an, early Muslim tradition, dimensions of the Prophet’s own spirituality, and in their own tested experience as Muslim mystics.

Cosmic Dance, Hindu & Buddhist Techniques, and Moroccan Jewish Songs

February 27th, 2019

Our first library novelty this month is “The Cosmic Dance”, an article relating St Augustine’s De Musica with the Hindu image of Shiva as lord of universal harmony. Fr Aelred Squire, OP, brings out some of their deepest affinities in the light of a careful reading of the Latin text.

The hierarchy established as the term of this discussion places the physical rhythms lowest, then those of memory, then the responsive rhythms of sensation, then the spontaneous rhythms of self-directed activity, and finally at the head, the rhythm of discernment. Can we rise beyond this?

Lord of Dance Shiva V&A

• Our second featured article explores concisely and in fine detail the “Hindu and Buddhist Techniques to Attain Samadhi,” at the junction between metaphysics and spiritual realisation.

In these cases, technique refers to the gradual removal of hindrances, to the refinement of consciousness, until the psychic flux is arrested and the experience of complete fusion of the subject and object of meditation ensues: then, “…the true nature of the object shines forth not distracted by the mind of the perceiver.”

• Finally, a thesis excerpt by Vanessa Elbaz gives us a fascinating insight into the Moroccan cantares de las judías antiguas (songs of the ancient Jewish women), at the centre of a powerful tradition where art, family traditions and communal holiness reinforce and further one another. This rich and seemingly profane repertoire has been maintained for centuries due to its intrinsic relation to religious piety, practically as “the feminine counterpart of the piyyutim sung by men in the synagogue.”

Oral traditions are used as a manner of encoded language to transmit messages that are of fundamental value to the culture, but that are not always to be spoken of openly.

Melotherapy, the Deeper Sense of Studying, and Carthusian Guidance

January 28th, 2019

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2019, dear readers.

We are pleased to start the year by introducing a recent work on melotherapy, or healing through music, by the Romanian scholar Severina-Maria Oprea, relating Orthodox liturgical music to ancient and contemporary practices of art therapy, particularly in the treatment of depression and aggressiveness.

Science, art and spirituality fundamentally meet in music, reclaiming the dialogue between scientist and artist, inviting to common projects that serve a society which expresses more and more the need to recover values lost in time. The normality of our society cannot be the outcome of a fragmentary reality— solely scientific, artistic or religious, because the reality of the world is integral.

• In a well-known essay of major importance to academic life, Simone Weil shares her “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.”

Simone Adolphine

If we seek with true attention the solution to a geometry problem, and if at the end of an hour we are no nearer to it than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren and fruitless effort has brought more light into the soul. The fruit will be found one day, later, in prayer.

• And in a brief article about the Carthusian order, those “unworthy and useless poor men of Christ who dwell in the desert of the Chartreuse for love of the name of Jesus,” Gordon Mursell explains how it is that from their solitary life they guide the faithful and have an impact on the external world.

Set apart from all, to all we are united, so that it is in the name of all that we stand before the living God.

Books and Contemplative Life, the Royal Society, and Psychology Analysed

December 27th, 2018

Our first new library selection this month is a Matheson Trust original audio recording of a conversation with Rowan Williams. The former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, talks of the relevance of literature and reading for the spiritual life, including a precious insight into his personal library of spiritual classics.

The mistake we make very often is to suppose that we are out there in a void, facing an infinite distance to a remote God, rather than being part of a hugely rich interweaving of action in the universe, all of which is alive with the reflection of God’s glory.

• In an article on the early history of the Royal Society, Peter Harrison discusses the fascinating and unexpected relation between experimental science and religion.

The study of nature, Boyle suggests, ‘is the first act of religion, and equally obliging in all religions’ and is a kind of ‘philosophical worship of God.’ This form of worship is to be preferred to religious cult, for ‘discovering to others the perfections of God displayed in the creatures, is a more acceptable act of religion, than the burning of sacrifices or perfumes upon his altars.’ In this sense, experimental natural philosophers are really ‘priests of nature.’

• Finally, in his article “The Impasse of Modern Psychology”, Samuel Bendeck Sotillos examines the main schools of contemporary sciences of the mind from the point of view of the Perennial Philosophy.

As long as the discernment between the psychic and spiritual domains and the presence of integral spiritual forms and their practice are missing from psychology, the impasse of modern psychology will persist… The perennial psychology “is not a science for its own sake, and can be of no use to anybody who will not practice it.”

Relativism, to be a Person, and the Mysteries of Sound, Word and Reality

November 28th, 2018

We open our library selection this month with one of Frithjof Schuon’s most important articles on the differences between traditional and modern mentalities, “The Contradiction of Relativism.”

The primordial and normative attitude is this: to think only in reference to what surpasses us and to live for the sake of surpassing ourselves; to seek greatness where this is to be found and not on the plane of the individual and his rebellious pettiness. In order to return to true greatness, man must first of all agree to pay the debt of his pettiness and to remain small on the plane where he cannot help being small.

• In a stimulating audio lecture, Bishop Kallistos Ware explores orthodox answers to the question “What Does It Mean to be a Person?”, explaining how and why “the human being is the great universe, and the universe round us, the distances of outer space, millions of light-years, that is the little universe.”

Because we are microcosm, we are also mediator: as microcosms, standing at the crossroads, visible yet invisible, earthly and heavenly, body and yet soul, our human vocation is to reconcile and harmonise the differing levels of reality in which we participate. We are to spiritualise the material without thereby dematerialising it. We are to make the earth heavenly; we are to unify.

• A chapter by Margaret Greenhalgh on the Shingon Buddhism mysteries of “Sound, Word and Reality” in their relation to Aikido, the Japanese martial “Way of Peace”. This includes a method “to achieve integration with the cosmic Buddha, based on the ‘three secrets’ (sanmitsu) of body, sound and mind: combinatory exercises which integrate breath and hand movements, enunciation of sound and visualisation.”
mikkyo mudras

The Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit and Arabic, and Mozart’s Eternal Vision

October 29th, 2018

The first new addition to our library is an introduction to “the Bible of yoga,” the Yoga Sutras or aphorisms by Patanjali compiled before the 5th century AD. We include the Sanskrit recitation from our Sacred Audio Collection, and several English translations and commentaries, to allow for careful study of this veritable survey of the pathways to the Self, towards “truth-bearing knowledge and wisdom distinct from and beyond the knowledge gleaned from books, testimony, or inference,” towards the “new life that begins with this truth-bearing light.”

The yogi differentiates between the wavering uncertainties of thought processes and the understanding of the Self, which is changeless. He does his work in the world as a witness, uninvolved and uninfluenced. His mind reflects its own form, undistorted, like a crystal. At this point, all speculation and deliberation come to an end and liberation is experienced.

• In the 11th century, the great Persian philosopher Al-Biruni, the “father of Indology”, authored a translation of the Yoga Sutras into Arabic, thereby interpreting the Hindu pantheon for Muslim readers and setting a precedent for subsequent comparative studies. We present here a detailed English translation of Al-Biruni’s by Shlomo Pines.

When they were read to me letter by letter, and when I grasped their content, my mind could not forgo letting those who wish to study them share in my knowledge… What is written black on white cannot but constitute a new learning whose knowledge should lead to the attainment of some good and to the avoidance of harm.

• To complete our selection, we present an article by the late John Tavener, a very personal and deep appreciation of Mozart, in “A Celebration of an Unconscious Mystic,” where he explains how “God used this frail man to communicate to the world the eternal vision of childhood, and the divine world of Lila, a Sanskrit term meaning ‘divine play’,” and that “all his operatic characters are paradisal because, like Shakespeare, Mozart has forgiven all, even Don Giovanni.”

Mysteries of Divine and Human Speech, Light upon Light

September 29th, 2018

Our monthly selection includes an excerpt from a study and translation of a Japanese Buddhist classic on the concord between esoteric and exoteric ways, and how despite all the diversity of approaches to the Dharma, they all fundamentally arise from the utterance of A, and the saving method of the Buddha.

Dohan suggests that the very in and out breath that sustains beings’ life is the true form of constant nembutsu recitation. The breath is said to be the embodiment of Amitabha’s name.
A mandala

• In his essay “Light Upon Light”, Reza Shah-Kazemi elucidates the principle of rahma or divine loving compassion, explaining how

the true intellectual, al-‘aqil, is not simply one who knows a lot of things. The true intellectual is one whose knowledge of reality is sufused with divine mercy; from such a person, the light of knowledge will radiate as an almost tangible form of benevolent mercy, loving compassion.

An article on medieval Kabbalistic doctrines by Eitan P. Fishbane, “The Speech of Being, Voice of God,” speaks of Divinity represented as a cosmic act of articulation, a metaphysical progression of breath into sound.

The divine speech approaches the kabbalist as the mysterium tremendum, at once with the allure of revelation and the terror of ultimate danger.

Counting the Zen Way, Gaelic Songs and Hasidic Wisdom

August 27th, 2018

Our library selections for this month include an influential primer on the Zen practice of Susokukan, breath-counting concentration, known in early Buddhist literature as anapanasmriti, “mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation”, and considered by some to be “the first step as well as the final destination of Zazen.”

Susokukan breath counting is designed to free you from eternal slavery to your emotions and to keep your mind and body in a balanced state.

• A chapter on traditional Gaelic prayers and invocations, “Listening for God in All Things: Carmina Gadelica”, introduces us to little known aspects of the Celtic church history.

The most striking characteristic of Celtic spirituality in these prayers is the celebration of the goodness of creation. It is not surprising that in the Western Isles there should have been a sharp awareness of the earth and sea and sky. Their conversations were often about the skies, the effects of the sun on the earth and the moon on the tides, or the ebbing of the sea and the life in its depths… Christ was referred to as “King of the elements”, “Son of the dawn” or “Son of the light”.

Celtic Cross

• A selection from Martin Buber’s Ten Rungs of Hasidic Wisdom, “on God and Man”, “on Prayer”, and “on Heaven and Earth”, gives us a glimpse into the heart of Judaism and a living authentic Kabbalistic tradition.

The understanding of man is not great enough to grasp the fact that God is beyond time… In a dream we live seventy years and discover, on awakening, that it was a quarter of an hour. In our life, which passes like a dream, we live seventy years and then we waken to a greater understanding which shows us that it was a quarter of an hour.

When I look at the world, it sometimes seems to me as if every man were a tree in the wilderness, and God had no one in his world save him alone, and he had none he could turn to, save God alone.

Once again we would like to draw your attention to the forthcoming two-day course “Christian Platonism and the Spiritual Imagination”, taking place in Wells, Somerset, next October. Follow this link for details and to book a place.

Tolkien, Mulla Sadra on Prayer, and Conservatism

July 27th, 2018

Welcome to our belated July newsletter!

Our first new library item this month is a brief and insightful article by Bradley J. Birzer on J.R.R. Tolkien’s religiosity, in an attempt to discern what exactly were Tolkien’s views on the things that his followers seem so readily to divide over.

Tolkien didn’t love religion and only like language. And he didn’t love language and only like Catholicism. He wasn’t pagan, and he wasn’t anti-pagan. He was and loved all these things, and he saw no divide between a religion that preached the Word Incarnate and a scholarly life that focused on the use and deeper meaning of words.
   Tolkien with pipe

• A second article by Sayeh Meisami, “Mulla Sadra on the Efficacy of Prayer”, studies in detail the metaphysical understanding of prayer found in the works of the great Persian philosopher and sage.

Every action associated with a free agent, though dependent on the will of God, also possesses a degree of reality just like every being is a flash of the light of God… the efficacy of prayer is appreciated in its own right as a flame from the fire of the divine act.

• Finally we are grateful to republish the ever-timely “What is Conservatism?”, one of the indispensable texts on traditional political philosophy by Titus Burckhardt.

The consciously conservative man stands alone in a world which, in its all opaque enslavement, boasts of being free, and, in all its crushing uniformity, boasts of being rich… From understanding and experience he knows that man, with all his passion for novelty, has remained fundamentally the same, for good or ill; the fundamental questions in human life have always remained the same; the answers to them have always been known, and, to the extent that they can be expressed in words, have been handed down from one generation to the next. The consciously conservative man is concerned with this inheritance.

We would like to draw your attention to the forthcoming two-day course “Christian Platonism and the Spiritual Imagination”, taking place in Wells, Somerset, next October. Follow this link for details and to book a place.

One-Letter Mantra, Folk Indian Art and the “Centuries”

June 19th, 2018

We open our selection this month with a little dossier and an article on the Far Eastern tradition of invocation of the “one-syllable mantra”, the sound “A”. Known particularly in Shingon Buddhism as Ajikan, it is a practice of central importance within many schools, and with echoes in other faiths.

The A is inherent in OM. The entire Heart Sutra is considered a mantra and the dharmic gate for the great heart mantra. This “heart” (hridaya) is also the physical heart of the bodhisattva, and so, through Tantric practice such as the Ajikan meditation, the wisdom (prajna) of the physical heart becomes activated.

• A newly added article, “Landscape, Religion and Folk Art in Mithila”, on the Indian tradition of “court painting”, describes a form of art which is “cosmic in nature and playful in expression,” and which has been preserved for centuries by women of all castes in India. Mithila painting transmits a wealth of religious symbols and a very distinct formal language which is an integral part of everyday Indian life.
Types of Madhubani

Icons have an important magical-religious function. Since the image is thought to contain some of the qualities of the original subject, the inclusion of planets and constellations is believed to summon the essence of the original subject and attract its favorable influence… Folk paintings of deities and particular events are not works of art for art’s sake; they are charms and diagrams of religious concepts.

• We complete our selection with the powerful words from The Centuries of Meditation by Thomas Traherne, one of the most profound English metaphysical poets, and a true mystic of objective felicity and childlike gratitude.

To know God is to know Goodness. It is to see the beauty of infinite Love: To see it attended with Almighty Power and Eternal Wisdom; and using both those in the magnifying of its object. It is to see the King of Heaven and Earth take infinite delight in Giving. Whatever knowledge else you have of God, it is but Superstition.

The Power of Prayers, and Illusion and Reality

May 15th, 2018

Our library selections for this month include a chapter by Imam al-Ghazali on “Prayers for Every Emergent Occasion”, including the original Arabic text of the prayers and a famous passage on the causality of prayer.

Should you ask: What is the benefit of supplication [du‘a], while Preordination [qada’] is irrevocable?—then you should know that the revocation of an affliction by supplication is itself a part of Preordination. Supplication is a cause for the revocation of the affliction and the procurement of mercy, just as a shield is a cause for the deflection of an arrow and water is a cause for the growth of a plant on the ground… The acknowledgement of Divine Preordination does not require that one should carry no weapons… nor that the earth should not be watered.
desert prayer

• From a Christian perspective, an article by David Arias reviews Aquinas’ arguments for the efficacy of prayer, giving the metaphysical reasoning and answer for the question “Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?”

Some failed to see how human freedom and the efficacy of prayer could co-exist with the immutability of God’s providence, [but] twentieth century philosophers are hardly novel as regards their position on this matter. In fact, they’re doing nothing more than recycling an ancient error, which St. Thomas definitely refutes… How precisely does St. Thomas reconcile the nature of efficacious prayer with the immutability of divine providence?

• Finally, we present “Illusion and Reality” a chapter from David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God, a book that “has made many atheists lose their faith.”

If God is the unity of infinite being and infinite consciousness, and the reason for the reciprocal transparency of finite being and finite consciousness each to the other, and the ground of all existence and all knowledge, then the journey toward him must also ultimately be a journey toward the deepest source of the self: “there is nowhere to find him, but where he resides in you.”

* Only a few places left for this year’s Sacred Gardens weekend course at the Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, on 16 and 17 June. Click here for more details and to book.

* Our readers may also be interested in the online edX course “Oriental Beliefs: Between Reason and Traditions”, produced by the Department of Greek, Latin and Oriental Studies at the Université catholique de Louvain.

The Angel of Light, Dance of Condors and the Matter of Metaphysics

April 16th, 2018

• Our first new library addition this month is an article by Mother Macaria Corbett, “The Angel of Light and Spiritual Discernment in the Orthodox Tradition”, on the subject of spiritual delusions, prelest in the Russian terminology, “a wounding of human nature by falsehood”.

The first rule of unseen warfare is “distrust of self to one’s dying day.” What can be more bewildering to the beginner than this distrust of self? It is anathema to all modern psychology and spirituality… It takes at least a little self-knowledge and experience to begin to understand the usefulness of this rule, to understand how many ways we have of fooling ourselves, how easily we become intoxicated and misled by our own thoughts and passions. Also, one must admit, the first rule is impossible without the second: have an all-daring trust in God.

• As part of our Sacred Audio Collection, we bring a recording of one of the most ancient sacred dances of the Bolivian Aymara people, the Dance of the Kunturis (Condors), in which the combination of complex pan pipes and drumming reminds strongly of the archaic Far Eastern ritual music, such as Gagaku and Yayue Imperial Court music.
Aymara dancers

• A new article by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, “Is the Matter of Metaphysics Immaterial? Yes and No”, explores the concept of metaphysics in its relation to science, and its centrality and relevance to our times and within the context of Islamic philosophy.

If one adopts a civilization’s science without understanding that it is the product of a particular worldview, one is unwittingly adopting that civilization with all of its attributes, including its social and spiritual ailments. This is not a critique of science; on the contrary, it is an affirmation that science is worthwhile when it serves a society, and it can only serve a society when its embedded assumptions are spiritually sound.

We would like to draw your attention to this year’s Sacred Gardens weekend course, taking place in the Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, on 16 and 17 June, 2018. Click here for more details and to book a place.

Aikido & Cosmology, John Main and a Hindu Summa

March 15th, 2018

We start our selection this month with an article in the lineage of Ueshiba Morihei, founder of Aikido, pointing at the intimate correspondences between the traditional Far Eastern vision of the universe and the fundamental structure of the human being, and how these correspondences are actualized in the martial arts practice.

Aikido is the way of harmony, that is to say the living form of Ichirei Shikon Sangen Hachiriki (“One Spirit, Four Souls, Three Origins, Eight Powers”), the form of the fabric of the universe, specifically the form of the High Plain of Heaven.

A biography of Fr John Main OSB (1926-1982), one of the most influential recent promoters of a Western Christian way of invocation, in the spirit of the Early Fathers, centered on the use of the Aramaic mantra Maranatha.

“The mystery of love”, he wrote, “is that we become what we delight to gaze upon, and so when we open our hearts to his light we become light.”
His humour and humanity showed, as he said, that “the saint is not superhuman but fully human.”

• We are glad to share “Finding the Way Out of the Labyrinth”, an excerpt from the recently published The Scientist and the Saint, by Avinash Chandra, an extraordinary summa of spirituality for our times, based on experiential knowledge of Hindu esoterism and enriched by the wisdom of other traditions.

Scientist and Saint motif

If we regard the stars as nothing but combustion chambers where huge physico-chemical reactions occur, how can we marvel at the star-filled sky, an image that has always impelled men to seek the sacred world? If we think that the inner world of man is nothing but the result of biological reactions, what interest could we have in delving into it? How will we discover the treasure hidden within the soul if we do not even believe in the existence of the treasures?

We would like to draw your attention to this year’s Sacred Gardens weekend course, taking place in the Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, on 16 and 17 June, 2018. Click here for more details and to book a place.

Kiondos, Pure Land Wisdom, and the Thirty-Six Hidden Saints

February 15th, 2018

Our first library addition this month is an article on the symbolism of the kiondo or handwoven handbag of the Kikuyu and Kamba of Kenya, showing how everyday craftsmanship is intimately related to architecture and traditional cosmology.

Linking together all realities both natural and supernatural
the kiondo basket is a complex document written in a certain language that can be decoded and understood.

Kiondos by Melly L

The Tannisho is one of the most widely read works in Japanese Buddhism, known not only as a religious but literary classic. We present two unabridged translations of this foundational text of the Pure Land school.

Although my words must seem repetitious, I have written them down anyway. For while life still clings to this old body like a dewdrop to a withered blade of grass, I will be able to listen to the questions of those around me and tell them what Shinran Shonin taught.

In Buddhist scriptures, true and real teachings are generally intermixed with expedient and temporary ones. The Shonin intended that we should abandon the expedient and keep the real, set aside the temporary and follow the true. You must be very careful not to misread the sacred scriptures.

• And we complete our selection with a sermon by Rabbi Raymond A. Zwerin on the Jewish doctrine of the thirty-six hidden saints (lamed-vav tzadikim or tzadikim nistarim), usually thought to be craftsmen, “extremely modest and upright, unaware of their own identity behind a mask of ignorance and poverty, usually earning their livelihood by the sweat of their brow.”

They are not saints; they are not holy people, they are not recognized or known even to themselves. They simply are what they are and in their very being, they somehow sustain the world!

The Queen and the Avatar, the Name of Jesus, Where We Are

January 16th, 2018

We are pleased to announce the publication of our latest title, Dominique Wohlschlag’s “The Queen and the Avatar”, where the author shares his questions with the readers and takes them deep into the Indian epic world in order to understand the nature of Krishna and of divine incarnation in general.

What really is an avatar? What is the meaning of his often strange or disturbing behaviour? What does his being incognito mean, if even partially so? How can he be a joker, transgressor, cunning plotter or seducer? How does he become the founder of a new religion, or the reviver of an old one?

• In his essay “What We Are and Where We Are”, Gai Eaton clarifies and probes the traditional teachings about human responsibility and divine retribution, in the context of our modern lives and in the light of the initiatic way.

The traveler, far from being alone, is surrounded by helpers… So it is often said that he does not, in truth, leave the world behind him, but draws it after him into the pattern of unity for which it craves. The self-enclosed man is friendless in a necessarily hostile environment, whereas the traveler, like those ancient heroes who were aided in their moments of greatest peril by birds and beasts and plants, is nowhere rejected.

• Our last selection this month is a podcast, “Jesus: Name Above Every Name”, by the late orthodox Fr. Thomas Hopko. Follow the link to read or listen.

For ancient Christianity and for Eastern Orthodoxy through the ages, the very name “Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua” is the presence and the power of the Person of Christ himself. When you say that name, he is there. When you invoke that name, Jesus is present. His power is present. His might is present. His saving power is present. He is present! It’s a parousia. It’s a parousia before the presence of the Lord at the end of the ages.

Poliphony, Heavenly Sounds and the Tipi of the Heart

December 16th, 2017

Our first new library addition this month is an article on the “Metaphysics of Musical Polyphony”, by Marco Pallis, who was not only a renowned metaphysician and mountaineer, but also an accomplished violist and an important promoter of early English music. His understanding of musical harmony comes from a lifetime of personal experience.

That counterpoint we call “life” is a search for a unity which, across all the vicissitudes of existence, is sensed as ever present: only in a return to our existential keynote will peace be found.

• On a similar note, as a new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection, we have recordings of an ancient Japanese norito, or sacred incantation, said to be “beyond comprehension, no matter how deeply we may think.” These songs play on the idea that human beings are children of heaven who have lost their purity, and that by restoring it through prayers they return to their divine origin. The symbol of the frog is used to express the idea of returning to the kami, incorporating a play on the word kaeru, which means “I return” as well as “frog”.

   Hoji Frog

• Finally, in an article on the cosmology of the North American Plains Indians, “The Three Circles of Existence”, Kurt Almqvist explains how once we are grounded on “the tipi of the heart”, “anywhere is the center of the world.”

   Medicine Wheel

Seven Subtleties, Ghazali’s Light and Hatha Yoga

November 16th, 2017

Our latest additions this month include an article by Kristian Petersen, “The Seven Subtleties of Islamic Spiritual Physiology according to Wang Daiyu”, giving a glimpse into a centuries-long dialogue between Islam and Confucianism.

The true heart’s grand nature grasps the sage’s knowledge and sees what has been and what shall come, what has appeared and what has not yet appeared; all appear before him and the cosmos is as one. These are all because this heart’s function is to act in obedience to the bright command.

• As we continue to build our core library of comparative studies, we present a now classic article by J.A. Wensinck on Al-Ghazali’s Mishkat al-anwar (The Niche of Lights), widely considered the most esoteric of Ghazali’s works. Wensinck draws a detailed parallellism between some of Ghazali’s most profound passages and early Christian and Neoplatonic sources.

This sight is only possible because the eye itself is light and sunlike. Become, therefore, first wholly godlike and wholly beautiful, if thou wilst see God and the Beautiful. Here, in intelligible beauty, dwell the ideas; the highest good is the fountain-head and the beginning of the beautiful.

• As one of the outcomes of the ongoing SOAS project on Hatha Yoga, we present an article by Jason Birch on “The Meaning of hatha in Early Hathayoga”, that “forceful combustion that destroys duality”.

The practice of Hathayoga causes kundalini to rise, which, like a key, forces the door of liberation to open. When coupled with other images that are used to convey the effect of Hathhayoga on kundalini, such as that of a stick beating a snake, the implication is that the force of Hathhayoga is the forceful effect of its practice on kundalini.

The Self as the Enemy and the Friend, and a Hundred Word Eulogy

October 15th, 2017

Our first new library addition this month is a searching article by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, probing the questions “Who is Satan and Where is Hell?”

That in this day and age… men no longer take either God or Satan seriously, arises from the fact that they have come to think of both alike only objectively, only as persons external to themselves and for whose existence no adequate proof can be found.

• Adding to our collection of original audio recordings, we have new Chinese and English readings of the extraordinary medieval document called “The Hundred-Word Eulogy” (Baizizan), written by the Founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (14th century) in praise of the Prophet Muhammad.

Dongguan Mosque Baizizan
  Inscription of the poem at Dongguan Mosque, Xining.

• Complementing our first article, we have “The Self as Enemy, the Self as Divine: A Crossroads in the Development of Islamic Anthropology” a study by Taneli Kukkonen on a key point of traditional Sufi psychology.

No-one is exempt from the character-building exercise of repentance (tawba). Furthermore, according to Ghazali, the wayfarer’s soul is ever a work in progress, with work always remaining to be done, hence the need for constant and never-ending vigilance.

Musical Metaphysics, Japanese Synthesis, and the Identity of the Church

September 15th, 2017

Our first contribution this month is an article by Sebastian Moro on the metaphysics of music and harmony, as detailed in Plato’s Timaeus and studied by later philosophers, in the intersection between cosmology, mathematics and art theory.

The paradigmatic relation between the world, the World-Soul and numbers is such that what is seen in numbers and their musical properties is also seen in the structure of the world.

• We have next an article by Susan Tyler on the Japanese traditional synthesis of Shinto and Buddhist celestial beings and saints, considering also the relation between a given concrete landscape and paradise, with special attention to the famous Kasuga Temple in Nara.

It seems possible that Shinto was confirmed in a sort of archaic simplicity precisely in contrast to Buddhism. It was contrast and tension that interested people, not some mixing which deprived distinct matters of their identity.

Kasuga Mandala, 14th c. (detail)
 Kasuga Mandala, showing the Shinto deities below and their Buddhist counterparts above.

• Finally, we have a study by Hieromonk Elisha on the “Identity and Theological Ethos of the Eastern Churches”, exploring the foundations and contemporary implications of the basic unity and the historical coherence of the Eastern Churches.

Ecology is also an extension of the Eucharist and is directly connected to the very heart of our faith: the incarnation. Creation, too… has been impregnated with divinity through the life-giving incarnation of the Word.

Wonder, Comparing Philosophy, and Breaking the Spell

August 15th, 2017

Our latest library addition is a chapter on “Wonder” by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, studying an often overlooked and subtle shortcoming of modern mentality.

Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.

• In “The Concept of Comparative Philosophy”, Henry Corbin explores the common root in the mystical theosophy professed by the Sages of the three great communities of the Abrahamic tradition.

All of us, we Ahl al-Kitab, people of the “communities of the Book”, have to take into consideration together our theological past. Our sacred Books, the Bible and the Quran, in order to be understood, set us the same problems.

• We are very happy to announce the publication of our latest book by Gustavo Polit, Breaking the Spell of the New Atheism in the Light of Perennial Wisdom, the first book to refute the excesses of the New Atheism clique from a strictly metaphysical and esoteric perspective. Follow the link to read an excerpt and to buy online.

As has been justly observed, the real opposition is not between science and faith or science and religion, but rather the opposition between two philosophies, two worldviews, and therefore the opposition between a true metaphysics and a pseudo-metaphysics.

Great Learning, a Festival, and Aquinas and Islam

July 14th, 2017

The Great Learning (in Chinese Daxue), a very brief and poetic treatise, has been the cornerstone of Far Eastern social organisation and politics for thousands of years. The impact of its deep yet simple message over the centuries is immeasurable. Follow this link to read and listen to our original recordings of this jewel of wisdom.

From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything.

“The World of Islam Festival” was opened in London in 1976 by Queen Elizabeth II. Last year, the celebrations of its 40th anniversary included a talk by Ahmed Paul Keeler which we are happy to make available. It conveys directly the spirit of a cultural event whose many repercussions are still at work today.

• We complete our selection with “Thomas Aquinas and Islam”, a theological article by David B. Burrell C.S.C., explaining how St. Thomas’ classical synthesis of Christian philosophical theology was already an interfaith achievement, in a time when interculturality seemed rather to be the norm than the exception.

[Thomas] takes the opportunity of the objections to plumb more deeply what we already believe as Christians… his overall strategy with respect to other faiths is: we can learn from their questions better ways to elucidate our own set of beliefs.

A final reminder for next week lectures by Gray Henry: Monday on “Thomas Merton and Sufism”, and Tuesday on “The Spiritual Significance of the Defended Portal in World Art and Architecture According to A.K. Coomaraswamy”.

Your attention is also drawn to a September concert, the world premiere of one of Sir John Tavener’s works at Balliol College, Oxford.

The Garden, the Sibyl and a Conversation on Islam

June 13th, 2017

Our first library addition this month is a chapter by Jean Hani on “The Celestial Garden”, explaining its ancient macrocosmic and microcosmic symbolism and how the four ways of watering the garden correspond to the four types of prayer.

Amber Palace, Jaipur
Amber Palace, Jaipur

• A new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection is The Song of the Sibyl, a medieval apocalyptic chant which gives a striking testimony to the survival of ancient religious imagery in a Mediterranean Christian rite. Click here to listen.

• And we complete our selection with a video recorded conversation on Islam and the Qur’an, bringing together Karen Armstrong, John Esposito and Joseph Lumbard in an event organised by the Norwegian magazine Samtiden.

Your attention is drawn to our forthcoming July events, including a lecture on “Thomas Merton and Sufism” and another one on the geometric key to the Taj Mahal and other marvels of Mughal architecture.

We would also like to draw your attention to some of the activities of our colleagues at the PSTA and Temenos:
a lecture by Gray Henry on 18 July, “The Spiritual Significance of the Defended Portal in World Art and Architecture According to A.K. Coomaraswamy”, and a weekend workshop in October, “The Head, the Heart and the Hand: Geometry, Philosophy and the Music of the Spheres”.

Many Sides, Arhuaco Wisdom and a Personal Journey

May 14th, 2017

We open our library selections this month with an article by Alok Tandon, University of Pune, on one of the most important historical precedents of a deep approach to interreligious dialogue, the Jain doctrine of anekantavada or “many-sidedness” and its intimate relation to attaining peace.

The Jaina outlook towards the ideas of others combines tolerance with a certainty in commitment to Jaina cosmological and ethical views… The Jainas have shown great care to understand and respect the position of others. For this purpose, they have been engaged in a form of dialogue with other traditions that has broadened their knowledge without altering their own faith and commitment.

• Up in the holy mountain range of Santa Marta, Colombia, several indigenous communities struggle to resist the encroachment of modernity upon their ancestral lands and their deeply spiritual ecological worldview. Click here to read a small collection of documents penned by the “older brothers” themselves, “for humankind’s sake”.

Our thought is universal, for it encompasses all that exists; that is, the visible and the invisible; the great mysteries hidden in Nature, and which until the present most of humankind have been unable to know, since they turn everything into chemistry and science, ignoring that everything, plants and stones included, has its spirit. And all this composes a thought that pervades the Universe; all is united like a breath. This is a thought that has not been made up by me; it is thousands of years old.

• And we complete our selection with an engaging autobiographical account by Jacob Needleman, “My Father’s God”, about self-discovery and Self-discovery between a modern life and the life-long study of the great religious traditions.

If we lose all contact with this inner God-element in ourselves—our inner, wordless yearning to serve the Good and know the Truth… our thought and our action in the world will take us nowhere. Our thought will lead us either to cynicism or to an absurd overestimation of our mental powers.

Your attention is drawn to our forthcoming July events, including a lecture on “Thomas Merton and Sufism” and another one on the geometric key to the Taj Mahal and other marvels of Mughal architecture.

Among the many activities planned by our colleagues at the Temenos Academy for the coming months, we would also like to draw your attention to their weekend workshop “The Head, the Heart and the Hand: Geometry, Philosophy and the Music of the Spheres”.

Two Swords, and Songs of Joy and the Four Worlds

April 14th, 2017

Our two latest library additions, coming from very geographically and historically remote traditions, have to do with the meaning of the sword. The first one is a treatise on Japanese swordsmanship by Kimura Kyuho, “Ignorance in Swordsmanship” (Kenjutsu Fushiki Hen),

We have the sword of worship, of asceticism, as spiritual armor. Beyond this, there are spells which cause fever, spirit possession by foxes, curses of stopping the blood, pulling out fish bones and all sorts of other curses besides… However, doing these suspicious kinds of things and applying them to swordsmanship is a laughable notion. What is called wickedness is not the enemy of righteousness. Stick to the correct method: it is free of mystery. This form of wickedness cannot be used on those who hold to the truth: it is like ice melting in the sun.

• The second text is a very practical and technical text from the Christian Orthodox tradition, “The Sword of the Spirit: The Making of an Orthodox Rosary”,

The Jesus prayer is also associated with the beating of the heart, when the lips may be stilled and there is left to us only a listening, since the prayer says itself in the depth of the heart. We may find all this, and more, symbolized in the later stages of ‘tying the knot.’ Whatever we may learn it is integrated into a whole, but we only see it as such when the knot is finished.

• And finally, the latest addition to our acclaimed Sacred Audio Collection is a sample of Jewish mystical songs, nigunim, including two songs of joy, and the “Tune of the Four Gates”, a tune without words intended to lift the singer and the listener through each of the four spiritual worlds of the Kabbalah, for “Song is the soul of the universe,” and “in the high spheres there exist temples that can be opened through song only.” Click here to listen and for further references.

The Holy Mountain, Sacred Art and Progress

March 14th, 2017

Our library additions this month include an audio lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “Fifty-four Years as an Athonite Pilgrim”, with reflections and anecdotes of Mount Athos, “the Holy Mountain” (Agion Oros), about nature, silence and the importance of monastic life.

The primary task of the monk is prayer, not just intercessory prayer, but prayer in itself, all prayer, and this has value in itself. Today, as in the past, the Holy Mountain is supporting the outside world by acting as a powerhouse of living prayer… We may think of the monks as sentries, watchmen on the walls of the spiritual city, and because of them the inhabitants of the city within the walls are able to continue their lives in greater peace and security. How do the monks guard the walls? Through prayer, this is how the monks help the world: not actively, but existentially.

• In another audio lecture, “What is Sacred Art and does it have a place in the world today?”, Emma Clark shares reflections and insights from her years of experience as a teacher and student of sacred and traditional art.

What is tourism if not a disguised pilgrimage, a journey to the heart? if the traveller only knew!

• And in a remarkable chapter, “Progress in Retrospect”, renowned physicist Wolfgang Smith breaks through the barrier of scientistic belief to speak of a new and traditional science of the cosmos that includes transcendence and speaks to man as a whole.

Strange as it may sound, the traditional artist works not so much in time as in eternity. His art partakes somehow of the instantaneous ‘now’; and this explains its freshness, the conspicuous unity and animation of its productions. No matter how long it may take to fashion the external artefact, the work has been consummated internally in a trice, at a single stroke […] It follows from these considerations that there is a profound spiritual significance both in the enjoyment and in the practice of authentic art.

Adastra, the Cosmic Luth and Confessional Accounting

February 14th, 2017

Our first library novelty this month is a small selection of poems by Frithjof Schuon, including audio recordings of his original German. These poems belong to the numerous collections of contemplative and sapiential verse published by Schuon towards the end of his life.

O süsse Lied, das alles Sehnen stillt —
Das Gnadenlicht; schein in das Herz hinein!
Der Herr ist unsre Zuflucht, unser Schild —
Sei du mit Ihm, und Er wird mit dir sein.

O sweet song that stills all longing —
The Light of Grace; shine into my heart!
The Lord is our Refuge, our Shield —
Be thou with Him, and He will be with thee.

• A French article on the cosmology of string instrument design by Luc Breton, considered by some experts to be one of the greatest living authorities on the traditional craft and theory of lutherie. “The beauty of a work of art,” he explains, “is proportional to its degree of truth.”

L’habileté n’est pas traditionnellement un critère. «L’ouvrier habile n’a jamais suffi à faire le bon ouvrier», dit le compagnonnage. Si une œuvre est vraie, il se dégage toujours d’elle une beauté proportionnelle à son degré de vérité, sans rapport obligatoire avec l’habileté mise en œuvre pour son exécution.

• Finally, we have put together a selection of passages from Confession and Bookkeeping, a fascinating work by James Aho showing how what appears to be simply another mathematical technology, namely double-entry bookkeeping, once had great religious and moral significance. Among other facts, we learn how business ledgers used to be opened with the Cross, and business conducted in the “sweet name of Jesus.”

Presence, Elias Returning, and a Shared Saint

January 13th, 2017

Our first library addition this month is an article by William C. Chittick on a Sufi understanding of “Presence with God”, and how “being” is an aware and conscious “finding”.

Each part of the cosmos must find an intimacy with something, whether constantly, or by way of transferral to an intimacy that it finds with something else… A thing’s intimacy can only be with God, even if it does not know this.

• In his influential article “The Eliatic Function”, Leo Schaya opens up the very relevant symbolic associations of a passage from Malachi (3:22-24) regarding the presence and return of Elijah, Elias or Ilyas, one of the most exalted prophetic figures of the Abrahamic faiths.

When the terrestrial globe begins to crack, fissures occur not only “below”, but also “above”. Through the upper fissures, which represent openings of Good and of Grace in the face of the evil arising from the abysses, there penetrates a spiritual light which can enlighten the “hearts of the children” of Adam and bring them back to the “hearts of the fathers”, to the spirituality of the traditions.

• Lastly, we present a doctoral study on the history and repercussion of the tomb of a Muslim saint in the heart of the Punjab, as a centre of religious harmony not only between Muslims, Hindus and Sikh, but also between Shia and Sunni Muslims. “Sharing Saints, Shrines, and Stories” shows Haider Shaikh as a founder, protector, integrator, and exemplar of his community across religious boundaries and over the centuries.

He came to see that the world’s law was jutha (untrue) and that the Lord’s law was true. To adopt the rules of God, he did whatever Allah, Ishvar, Prabhu, Bhagwan, Paramatma, he did whatever pleased Allah Most High, and when God was happy then he was God’s and God was his.

Kintsugi, Hermetica and Beauty as State

December 13th, 2016

Our first contribution this month is a brief article on Kintsugi, the Japanese art of “gold joinery” or patching broken pottery with gold lacquer, repairing the brokenness in a way that makes the object even more beautiful for being broken. It is a long and laborious process which requires much patience and some gold.

 Blue Kintsugi bowl

• Another new addition is Poimandres, the famous first treatise of the Corpus Hermeticum, source and inspiration for countless artistic, mystical and philosophical endevours over centuries of European and Mediterranean history.

“I am Poimandres,” he said, “mind of sovereignty; I know what you want, and I am with you everywhere.” I said, “I wish to learn about the things that are, to understand their nature and to know God. How much I want to hear!” I said…
He changed his appearance, and in an instant everything was immediately opened to me. I saw an endless vision in which everything became light—clear and joyful—and in seeing the vision I came to love it.

• Finally, an early article by Ananda Coomaraswamy introduces us to the subtle understanding of beauty as a state, a timeless communion between subject and object.

The vision of beauty is spontaneous, in just the same sense as the inward light of the lover (bhakta). It is a state of grace that cannot be achieved by deliberate effort; though perhaps we can remove hindrances to its manifestation, for there are many witnesses that the secret of all art is to be found in self-forgetfulness.

Love Conversion, Timaeus and Hasidic Prayer

November 13th, 2016

Our first new library addition this month is an article by Kerrie Hide, “Insights from the Revelations of Divine Love and the Contemplation to Attain Love”, on religious “conversion” (metanoia) as an “other-worldly falling in love” and “one-ing”, where ultimately God’s love for us and ours for God includes all things, the totality of the self, every element of God’s world.

Prayer ones the soul to God in the sense of bringing together and joining us with what we already are. Prayer brings about the experience of oneing, of being knit in this knot and oned in this oneing, and made holy in this holiness.

• Rodney Blackhirst introduces us to “The Mythological & Ritualistic Background of Plato’s Timaeus”, meeting point between ancient Greek and Oriental traditions of wisdom, and wellspring for centuries of scientific and mystical cosmological studies.

The Timaeus behaves very much as a sacred text in the fullest sense—having a microcosmic completeness and adequacy—which indeed it is, but to a religion that is now defunct… the text’s array of symbols is so primordial and fundamental that it has remained an unsurpassed account of traditional cosmological doctrines.

• In the article “Hasidism and Prayer”, Rabbi Louis Jacobs describes the way of prayer of the tsaddikim towards “that high place in which comprehension is impossible, except in the manner that one smells something fragrant.”

The Hasid should never be ashamed to perform violent movements and to shout aloud during his prayers any more than a man in danger of drowning in a swiftly flowing river is ashamed to call for help and wave his arms about in order to save himself.

An ABC Garland, Sacred Masks and William of Tripoli

October 13th, 2016

Varna-mala, the “garland” or “rosary of letters”, is the ancient Hindu recitation of the Sanskrit alphabet, an image and human reenactment of the primordial tune to which Shiva created the universe. Two very good recordings of these Shiva Sutras are the latest addition to our internationally acclaimed Sacred Audio Collection.

• We are happy to publish yet another of the masterful pieces by Titus Burckhardt, “The Sacred Mask”, a compelling testimony to the unity between traditional art, rites and metaphysics.

In a certain sense, the sun is the divine mask par excellence. For it is like a mask in front of the divine light, which would blind and consume earthly beings if it were unveiled.

A study by Thomas F. O’Meara OP introduces us to the life and thought of Dominican friar William of Tripoli, a medieval precursor of comparative studies, and his theological attempts to understand Islam in the very midst of the Crusades.

William was not only a comparative phenomenologist of religions but a theologian of what he named the “via salutis,” the way of salvation. He located Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in one salvation history. God is the origin and destiny of the one way of saving knowledge.

Before Your Eyes, the Divine Vision, and Lover and Beloved

September 14th, 2016

• Our first new library addition this month is Genjo Koan, one of the best known chapters of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, the great early summa of Zen monastic teaching, and “the best text to start to study Dogen’s work”.

When someone has spiritually awakened, he resembles the moon’s ‘residing’ in water: the moon does not get wet nor is the water shattered. Although the moon is a great, broad light, it lodges in the tiniest bit of water. The moon at its fullest, as well as the whole of the heavens, lodges within the dewdrop poised on a blade of grass, just as it lodges in any single bit of water. Spiritual awakening does not tear a person asunder.

• An article by Prof. David Bradshaw, “The Vision of God in Philo of Alexandria”, relates ancient Greek and early Christian concepts of the purification of the soul and the ultimate vision of God.

The sort of purification he has in mind is not a ritual cleansing or ascetic discipline, but the education of the soul into virtue and wisdom. Philo holds that the best preparation for the pursuit of divine things is an active life of virtue, “for it is sheer folly to suppose that you will reach the greater while you are incapable of mastering the lesser.”

• And finally we bring the famous “Book of the Lover and the Beloved” by Ramon Llull, the great medieval Majorcan saint and scholar.

The Lover and the Beloved met, and the Beloved said to the Lover: “Thou needest not to speak to Me. Look at Me only, for thine eyes speak to My heart, that I may give thee what thou willest.”

Chinese Gleams, Language Depths, and Hindu and Christian Avatars

August 14th, 2016

• The latest item in our library is an article by William Chittick on dialogue between Chinese and Islamic civilizations, specifically about the place of one of the most widely read books among Chinese Muslims, the Tian Fang Xing Li, and its place in the Islamic tradition.

The intellect—the heart—once it is awakened through the great learning, does not belong to the realm of forms and images, but rather to the realm of reality and principle. The heart is the master of forms, it is not mastered by forms, so it can express itself in any form appropriate to the audience.

• A rich article by Moshe Idel, “Reification of Language in Jewish Mysticism”, takes us to the depths of Kabbalistic language doctrines in their many facets and manifestations.

Jews constantly rebuild the Temple by their daily prayer and study of the Torah, when performed properly. As God was able to create a world by means of letters, man is supposed to rebuild the Temple in his ritual usage of language.

• And a recent contribution by Dominique Wohlschlag discusses how the Hindu religion can be viewed as a ‘complementary/incommensurable other’ to Christianity, with particular attention to the doctrine of incarnation.

The more one relies on metaphysical “intuition”, free from denominational constraints, the more one is tempted to see what these two traditions have in common. The more one concentrates on the details of theological speculations, which are anxious to construct safeguards against heretical excesses, the more one is tempted to see differences. Metaphysics contra theology: it is the eternal conflict between the spirit and the letter. But, in substance, there is no choice to make: one only has to put everything in its proper place.

Christian Pilgrimage, Shugendo, and Seven Difficulties

July 14th, 2016

Ages pass, the rock remains. Like the rock, the spirit remains… In Subiaco, at the grotto of St Benedict, the Latin inscription carved in the rock by the entrance addresses Benedict, and the pilgrim: “Continue in the darkness to seek the shining light, for only on a dark night do the stars shine. Perge in tenebris radiorum quaerere lucem. Nonnisi ab oscura sidera nocte micant.

Our first new library addition this week is a documentary exploring the relation between landscape and Christian pilgrimage in three ancient Christian sacred sites.

• Also on the topic of pilgrimage, an article by Paul L. Swanson introduces the Japanese tradition of “Shugendo and the Yoshino-Kumano Pilgrimage.”

The head yamabushi explained the purpose of these dangerous maneuvers. ‘While you are concentrating on getting past these dangerous places,’ he said, ‘your mind is clear. You do not think of money, sex, drink, or any other distraction. Perhaps for only a second you think of no-thing [mu]. For a moment you are in the world of no-thing-ness [mu no sekai]. This is the state of mind you must cultivate. The purpose of shugendo is to realize this state of mind and cultivate it in everyday life.’

• Finally, in his important and concise “Comments on a Few Theological Issues in the Islamic-Christian Dialogue”, Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr identifies seven theological and metaphysical issues of particular difficulty, including Divine manifestation, the status of sacred scripture, sacred law and sexuality, and the life of Christ, for the attention and reflection of those “concerned with a deeper understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

Weighing the Word, the mystic OM, a little mystagogy and the five hearts

June 14th, 2016

• We are happy to announce the publication of our latest Matheson Monograph, Weighing the Word: Reasoning the Qur’an as Revelation, by Peter Samsel, available today from booksellers worldwide. This book is pioneering as an exercise in Muslim apologetics, exploring the many arguments, studies and traditions regarding the status of the Qur’an as a revealed text. Click here for more information, to read an excerpt and to buy a copy.

• Our Hinduism section has a new brief article by Swami Prabhavananda on “The Mystical Word OM”, introducing the Hindu doctrine of sphota-vada, “the way of utterance” or “philosophy of the word”, explaining why

The Yogis claim that through meditation one may hear this word OM vibrating through the universe.

• We also have a new article by Hieromonk Elisha (Hiéromoine Élisée) of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the “Petite mystagogie de la Divine Liturgie”, a profound meditation on the inner aspects of time and space in the Christian liturgy.

Le chrétien doit se séparer de l’esprit du monde pour participer aux mystères, mais, en retour, ceux-ci refluent vers le monde pour le bénir, par la médiation des serviteurs du Verbe. Ainsi s’édifie mystérieusement le royaume de Dieu, espérance et but de l’univers.

• Finally, we have a new Italian article on the relation between the Sufi invocation and the body’s subtle centres (lata’if, chakras) as explained in some Urdu treatises: “Istruzioni sullo dhikr nei centri sottili in alcuni trattati in urdu sulla via mistica”, by Fabrizio Speziale, contains a wealth of references to little known doctrines found among Central Asian Sufi brotherhoods, such as the doctrine of the five hearts.

I cinque cuori (qulub) sono il cuore carnale, il cuore penitente, il cuore bello o grazioso, il cuore che testimonia e il cuore reale (qalb-i haqiqi).

Silence, Bach, Collective Work and Presence

May 16th, 2016

Our first new library addition is a rare audio lecture “On Silence” by Swami Prabhavananda, of the Ramakrishna Order, giving a powerful insight into the Vedantine way.

None of us has ever been satisfied with finite knowledge of the finite… But why is it that we do not find God? Of course it is ignorance, but what is this ignorance? That we are not interested in knowing the Creator; we are so interested in His creation. We are seeing the magic, and absorbed in this magic we don’t see the Magician.

• Complementing the talk on silence, an autobiographic and brief article by Rosalyn Tureck, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century and a renowned expert in the work of J.S. Bach, gives a very personal answer to her life question “Why Bach?”.

My performances are the sum total of my work, thought and spirit… If my work has proved to to have been of aesthetic enlightenment and spiritual benefit to others, perhaps, then, I shall not have labored in vain.

• Finally, one of the articles in René Guénon’s posthumous collection Initiation and Spiritual Realisation, considering various aspects of the relation between “Collective Initiatic Work and Spiritual Presence”.

In the Hebrew Kabbalah it is said that when the sages converse about the divine mysteries, the Shekinah is present among them; thus, even in an initiatic form where the collective work does not in general seem to be an essential element, a spiritual “presence” is no less clearly averred when such a work takes place.

• There are still two places available for this year’s Sacred Gardens course, a practical and philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place from 4th to 5th June in Wells, Somerset. Follow this link for details and to register.

Dame Julian, the Chinese Sage and Architecture

April 10th, 2016

Our latest library additions include an original recording of selections of the Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich, including some of the earliest and best known passages of mystical literature in the English language.


He showed a little thing, the size of a hazel nut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought, “What can this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.”
(Icon by Mihai Cucu)


• An article by Dr Kim Sung-hae “The Sage in Chinese Tradition: Wisdom and Virtue Personified”, exploring traditional images of sainthood in Chinese religion.

The Sage is truly a man who has become one with the law of Heaven; he has become one whit Heaven. The Sage is nothing but a piece of the principle of Heaven. The Sage is nothing but a piece of the principle of Heaven standing in blood and bones… In spite of this unity, however, there is one distinction between the Sage and Heaven in their performances of transformation; the former works with heart, the latter, without heart (muxin).

• And finally some reflections on interfaith dialogue through architecture among the Abrahamic religions, by Prof. David Brown:

It is not just formal arguments for God’s existence that the three religions might share in common… one could explore the lived character of the three faiths and find in their actual practice of architecture shared elements in their approach to worship of, at least in some respects, the same God… Apparently competing symbols do not necessarily imply opposed religious claims.

• This year’s Sacred Gardens course, a practical and philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, is taking place from 4th to 5th June in Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details and to register.

Islam without Sufism, Leibniz and an Old Master

March 15th, 2016

New to our library is a recent talk by Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter), answering the question “Is Orthodox Islam Possible without Sufism?”

The basic principle of self-awareness, of awareness of the needs and vulnerabilities of others, the duty to see the hand of God in nature and in other human beings, the obligation to be reflective about oneself and one’s motivations, the basic responsibilities of having a dhikr, of reading Qur’an, of being a kind of luminous person who walks “lightly on the earth” as the Qur’an says: these are incumbent whether or not we have the convenience of a Sufi lodge or a shaykh down the road.

• Also new to our shelves is an article on Leibniz and his theory of an innate, universal “rational religion” that would not supersede revelations, elucidating in a way the relations between universal esoterism and its manifold exoterisms.

Natural theology originates in the “seeds of truth embedded in the mind by God”… The religion of reason is eternal, and God engraved it into our hearts, our corruptions obscured it, and the goal of Jesus Christ was to restore its luster, to bring men back to the true knowledge of God and the soul, and to make them practice the virtue which constitutes true happiness.

• In his lecture “A New Encounter with an Old Master”, Roger Lipsey draws an intellectual and heartfelt portrait of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “that noble scholar upon whose shoulders we are still standing.”

Coomaraswamy’s passionate intellectuality is memorable. It presses against one, implicitly asks where one stands, what one cares for without compromise. It asks what, in our experience and intent, is the central cultural act. And among his many replies is this one: “It is not to enlarge our collection of bric-à-brac that we ought to study ancient or foreign arts, but to enlarge our own consciousness of being.”

• There are still places left for the Sacred Gardens course, a practical and philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place this year from 4th to 5th June in Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details.

Lady Philosophy, India and the Vale of the Soul

February 14th, 2016

This week we bring a collection of excerpts from The Consolation of Philosophy, one of the books that defined European intellectual life with its engaging blend of Neoplatonist and Christian ethics. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages.”

‘Now,’ said she, ‘I know the cause, or the chief cause, of your sickness. You have forgotten what you are. So now I really understand why you are ill, and I know how to cure you. You are overwhelmed by this forgetfulness of yourself…

Boethius and Philosophy

Lady Philosophy offers Boethius wings for his mind to fly aloft.
The French School (15th century).

• We present next a remarkably prescient article by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “What Has India Contributed to Human Welfare?” showing the “application of religious philosophy to the problems of sociology”.

It is not sufficient for the English colonies and America to protect themselves by immigration laws against cheap Asiatic labour; that is a merely temporary device, and likely to do more harm than good, even apart from its injustice. Nor will it be possible for the European nationalist ideal that every nation should choose its own form of government, and lead its own life, to be realized, so long as the European nations have, or desire to have, possessions in Asia. What has to be secured is the conscious co-operation of East and West for common ends, not the subjection of either to the other, nor their lasting estrangement.

• And to complete our update, a dialogue with biologist Rupert Sheldrake on the idea and place of the soul within the current scientistic materialist worldview.

In the modern world, when people talk about the inner life, they mean a life somewhere inside their body and especially inside their brain. Then there’s the outer life which is the whole of the external realm. We’ve internalized this shrunken soul, and think that “the inner” means something inside our brains… The idea that there is an objective reality, totally free from any kind of psychic influence, is an extraordinary illusion.

• Our recent affiliation to the PayPal Giving Fund means that now you can contribute to our activities whenever you use eBay. Simply select The Matheson Trust as your favourite charity on eBay by following this link.

• Your attention is drawn to a new opportunity to join the acclaimed Sacred Gardens course, a practical and philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place this year from 4th to 5th June in Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details.

The Aim, Alchemy for Sisters, and Divine Help

January 12th, 2016

We start the new year with a translation of the very influential treatise by St Seraphim of Sarov on the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, a testament to the vitality of a truly genuine Christian esoterism.

The soul speaks and converses during prayer, but at the descent of the Holy Spirit we must remain in complete silence, in order to hear clearly and intelligibly all the words of eternal life which He will then deign to communicate.

• We follow with a selection of rare Chinese texts on feminine alchemy, or secret teachings on inner purification for women, “for the perfection of true harmony”.

In the science of essence and life, men and women are the same—there is no discrimination… What is most essential at the beginning of this study is self-refinement. Self-refinement is a matter of mind and breathing resting on each other. This means that the mind rests on the breathing and the breathing rests on the mind.

• And finally an introductory article, “Helping the Cosmos”, on the meaning of the Hindu avataras and their qualities, by Mary Brockington.

“Whenever there occurs a decline in righteousness and a surge in unrighteousness, then I send forth myself. To protect the good and to destroy evil-doers, in order to establish righteousness, I come into being from age to age.”

The Song of Songs of Divine Love, and a Modern Reform

December 15th, 2015

Our latest library additions include several approaches to the Song of Songs, considered for centuries the most direct expression of the deepest religious life, “where in love it is the same to give all, and receive all, and keep all forever.”

• In our Sacred Audio Collection we have an original Hebrew recitation by Fr Abraham Shmuelof (1913-1994).

• We have a selection from the sermons by St Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song, with helpful explanations on “The Various Meanings of the Kiss”, “Intimacies of Divine Love”, “The Breasts of Bride and Bridegroom” and “The Loves of Angels”.

A kiss, not indeed an adhering of the lips that can sometimes belie a union of hearts, but an unreserved infusion of joys, a revealing of mysteries, a marvelous and indistinguishable mingling of the divine light with the enlightened mind, which, joined in truth to God, is one spirit.

• An audio lecture on “Recovering the Song of Songs as a Text of Devotion”, by Stephanie Paulsell, with valuable insights on the Song and our times.

We too might turn to the Song looking for a path to cross the distance between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others, between ourselves and the world… In prayer we try to cross the distance between ourselves and God with language, and then (…) God breaks in upon our prayer before we have even finished uttering it…

• We also have a new addition to our articles by René Guénon, with his classic introductory essay on “The Reform of the Modern Mentality”.

Modern civilisation appears in history as a veritable anomaly; of all those we know about, our own is the only one which has developed in a purely material sense, and is also the only one which is not supported by any principle of a higher order.

The Underlying Religion, the Emperor’s Vigil and the Book of Formation

November 10th, 2015

Our latest library additions include an introduction by Clinton Minnaar to The Underlying Religion. Like the book itself, these pages are an introduction to the Perennial Philosophy in both width and depth, providing information on key authors and works, but most importantly bringing home the vital implications of the transcendent unity of religions for our times and our individual lives.

While the Truth requires the deployment of the intelligence—“with all thy mind”—, and the Way (or Prayer) requires the activity of the will—“with all thy strength”—, the Life (or Virtue) requires conformity of the sentiment—“with all thy soul”.

• We also have a new article by Carmen Blacker on the symbolism of the daijosai, one of the rites of enthronement of the Japanese emperor.

The legitimacy of the imperial line… depends not so much on hereditary blood succession as on the complete and correct transference of the imperial mitama from the old emperor to his successor… In the daijosai we have, marvelously preserved like a kind of spiritual fossil, one of the most complex and mysterious rituals for the consecration of a king to survive from the ancient world.

• And a reference page for the Sefer Yetzirah or “Book of Formation”, one of the most important works of Jewish traditional grammar-cosmology, including links to several translations and commentaries.

When Abraham was born, God consulted with the Sefer Yetzirah which said, “Give (me to him).” So God handed it over to Abraham, who sat alone and meditated… and could not understand it at all until there came a heavenly voice and said to him, “Do you seek to compare anything with me? I am One and I created Sefer Yetzirah and investigated it and made everything which is written in it.

Singing Birds, Abu Bakr’s Prayer and Cooking Instructions

October 2nd, 2015

We start this week’s selection with a now classic article by René Guénon on the symbolism of “The Language of the Birds”, which

can also be called “angelic language”, and is symbolized in the human world by rhythmic language, for the science of rhythm, which has many applications, is in fact ultimately the basis of all the means which can be brought into action in order to enter into communication with the higher states of being.

• Directly from the earliest times of Islam, as transmitted by Imam al-Ghazali, we present the translation of a prayer attributed to the first of the “righteous caliphs”, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. Literally a world away from most contemporary portrayals of Islam, and yet as close to the source as could be.

By the Torah of Moses,
the Gospel of Jesus,
the Psalms of David,
and the Furqan of Muhammad!

• For dessert, here is one of the most famous of Zen Buddhist classics, the Instructions for the Cook (Tenzo Kyokun) by Dogen, explaining how the spiritual way is in deep harmony with the art of preparing food and serving others.

When you serve the monastic assembly, they and you should taste only the flavour of the Ocean of Reality, the Ocean of unobscured Awake Awareness, not whether or not the soup is creamy or made only of wild herbs.

Returning to the World, Indian Music and Stray Camels

September 10th, 2015

We come back to our library news with an article by Michio Tokunaga on the Pure Land Buddhist understanding of reaching Paradise and then “returning to the world”.

A “practicer of shinjin” lives in linear time when viewed from the perspective of living in this world with a limited physical existence, and, at the same time, transcends it when viewed from the perspective of Amida’s working beyond time.

• Another new addition is an introductory article on Indian Music by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, with precious insights into the foundations and spiritual symbolism of one of the world’s most ancient musical traditions.

Indian music is essentially impersonal: it reflects an emotion and an experience which are deeper and wider and older than the emotion or wisdom of any single individual. Its sorrow is without tears, its joy without exultation and it is passionate without any loss of serenity. It is in the deepest sense of the words all-human… The peace of the Abyss which underlies all art is one and the same, whether we find it in Europe or in Asia.

• Finally, in his essay “Stray Camels in China”, William Chittick articulates carefully an Islamic theological approach to dialogue in depth with other faiths.

In order to discuss first principles with followers of other traditions, Muslims need to recognize that the fundamental message of the Quran is God’s universal truth and universal reality, and this means the precedence and predominance of mercy in all things.

Bach’s Musical Geometry, Kabbalah Origins and The Dragon Gate

August 10th, 2015

Our recent library additions include an article by Dutch pianist Tjako van Schie, “Bach as Architect and Servant of the Spiritual: a closer look at the Goldberg Variations”, sharing a glimpse into the symbolic depth of one of the most popular works by J.S. Bach, with links to audio recordings.

Music reflects a large scale of human emotions, but it is also a lifetime philosophy that unites the humble man with the magnitude of the Cosmos. Bach is a skilled craftsman with only one goal: to serve.

• A pivotal article in the development of Kabbalah studies by Prof. Moshe Idel, “Rabbinism versus Kabbalism”.

The massive reliance on “the Gnostic thesis” has inflicted a major injury to the historical research of Jewish mysticism, for it has implicitly divorced the medieval Kabbalah from its organic sources in ancient Jewish traditions. It is by systematically ignoring the recurrent indications of the Kabbalists and by adopting a pseudo-critical attitude to classical Judaism that the modern scholarship of Kabbalah has been brought to a dead end regarding the origins of the Kabbalah.

• We are happy to provide access to a major work on the history and doctrines of Chinese religion, a thesis in French by the late Monica Esposito, on the “Dragon Gate” (Long Men) School and its alchemical practices. Click here to peruse the two volumes, which include previously untranslated material, extensive sections on “the universal doctrine of salvation of the Three Sages”, on feminine alchemy, a comprehensive bibliography and appendices. Click here for a detailed table of contents in French.

Gladsome Light, Kabbalistic Prayer and Heeding the Self

July 25th, 2015

Phos Hilaron, in Greek “Joyful Light” or “Gladdening Light” is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today. It is the latest addition to our popular Sacred Audio Collection, including authentic recordings in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Armenian and English. Click here to visit the page and listen.

A recent translation of Abraham Abulafia’s Meditations on the Divine Name gives us a practical insight into the contemplative life of one of the most vital branches of the traditional Kabbalah:

Adorn yourself and seek solitude in a special place where no one can hear your voice. Purify your heart and soul from all thoughts of this world. Think that in the coming hour your soul will leave your body and you will die to this world and you will live in the next world… And chant the aleph, and every letter you recite, with terror, awe and fear, coupled with the gladness of the soul in its comprehension which is great.

• Studying an homily by St Basil (4th cent.), Olga Alieva shows the common ground between the Platonic and Christian understanding of the Delphic maxim: “Know thyself.”

‘Give heed to thyself’ – that is, attend neither to the goods you possess nor to the objects that are round about you, but to yourself alone. We ourselves are one thing; our possessions another; the objects that surround us, yet another. We are soul and intellect in that we have been made according to the image of the Creator.

New book: Primordial Meditation

July 21st, 2015

We are very pleased to announce the publication of our new book, Primordial Meditation: Contemplating Reality. This is the first book ever written by Frithjof Schuon, compiled from his personal notebooks in the early 1930s. It was written in his native German, and this is the first time it is published as a book in English.

Primordial cover

Primordial Meditation is a unique work within the Schuonian corpus, exhibiting a fiery prose in which all the fundamental themes addressed by the author throughout his life can be discerned. As the translator observes:

In these early writings it is as if an immense energy were forcing a passage through a narrow channel, or a huge mass were being compressed to its utmost. The sheer scope and power of the content constantly threaten to burst the confines of the verbal receptacle.

(…) Its doctrinal rigour is complemented and counterbalanced by passages of haunting imagery and lyricism. It powerfully engages our total intelligence, penetrating not only the thinking mind, but also the depths of the soul.

Or as the author himself explains in a Preface:

The profound nature of things is changeless; with regard to the one metaphysical Truth, this present book, too, is impersonal and timeless, despite having in places the characteristics of an early work.

Click here to read an excerpt of the book in PDF format.

Primordial Meditation (ISBN 978-1-908092-120) is available through all major internet retailers and can be ordered from your local bookshop too. Follow this link for more details.

This is a Matheson Trust Publication, click here to view other Matheson Trust Publications.

A Mustard Seed, Infinite Finitude and Calmness

July 9th, 2015

Considered one the greatest mystical poems of German medieval literature, and usually attributed to Meister Eckhart, the Granum Sinapis or “Grain of Mustard Seed of the Most Beautiful Deity” is presented here in three English translations, with an audio recording of the original poem.

It is, yet truly none knows what. ‘Tis there, ’tis here,
’tis far, ’tis near,
’tis high, ’tis low,
yet all we know
is: This it’s not and That it’s not.

A new audio lecture by Abdal Hakim Murad, “Infinite and Finite”, on the relation between Ramadan and the Qur’an.

A religion has to deal with the huge paradox of how the infinite intersects with the finite… and where, in Islam, the infinite and the finite most conspicuously intersect is with the book of Allah. Look at what our theologians all say about the book: kalam Allah al-qadim. That is something very strange to say about something you can hold in your hands, “Allah’s ancient uncreated word”… and it is particularly associated with the month of Ramadan.

• Finally we present a brief article on the two types of “Calmness” known to Aikido practitioners.

Being calm in a crisis may mean that you don’t understand the situation, or it may mean that you have had some excellent training, so similar is the outward appearance of living and dead calmness.

Musashi's Bird

A Master Gardener, the 24 Philosophers and Nation and Religion

June 22nd, 2015

Our selections this week include a video interview with renowned horticulturalist Alan Chadwick, filmed in Covelo, California, in 1978.

Man utterly belongs, is adored by nature, is utterly requisite in the ordination of the totality of nature, spiritual, mental and physical, as an absolute necessity for the procedure of destiny in the revolvement of the world and its growth… he cannot divorce himself and live in happiness, and build an environment that shuts out that connection.

• We also present a new translation of a medieval metaphysical gem, the influential Book of the 24 Philosophers, in a bilingual Latin-English edition.

Upon a gathering of twenty-four philosophers, only one question remained for them to answer:
what is God?

• And finally “Nichiren’s View of Nation and Religion”, an article by Prof. Sato Hiroo discussing a Japanese Buddhist view on the relation between state and faith.

For Nichiren, the Tenno is no more than the means to realize “peace of the nation.” The Tenno is an entity that is at the service of a higher and more sublime religious ideal (the Buddha Dharma) and, as such, comes to be affirmed and recognized as the nation’s sovereign.

Kiss of Life, Learning from Islam and the Power of Melancholy

May 31st, 2015

Our first new library addition this week is an article by Prof. Admiel Kosman on the Jewish traditions linking the breath of life with the revealed Word and the kisses of the Song of Songs.

For the Sages, the resurrection of the world at Mount Sinai was completely analogous to the bestowal of life to primordial man in Creation… The homilists refer to the revelation at Mount Sinai as a kiss… That is to say, the life-giving words of God were kisses… the kisses of God’s Word, of the Torah.

A new recorded audio lecture by Thomas Cleary, “Can the West Learn from Islam?”, exploring and illustrating Islamic traditions that might help reintroduce the idea of the Holy in everyday Western society.

Fanaticism, compulsiveness in religion tends to alienate the individual from other people, the group from the larger body of society and the individual from his own real self.

• And an article by Angela Voss, set to music, on the deepest connections between Elizabethan music, Neoplatonism and astrology, studying John Dowland’s set of seven pavans for viols and lute, Lachrimae or Seven Teares of 1604.

Melancholy music which reflected back to the listener his or her own earth-bound condition, and yet also invoked the cosmic spirit, would have immense power—the power to lift the consciousness of both performer and listener to a new level of perception.

Primordial Meditation, the Swiss Hermit and Birds and Flight

May 13th, 2015

We open our selection this week with a glimpse of our forthcoming publication of Frithjof Schuon’s Primordial Meditation, an arresting work of his early years, rich in symbolic power and metaphysical penetration.

The world is a silken pall, in which lies a king, rigid and deeply enshrouded. He loves the silk in which he is wrapped, without knowing that it is a shroud, his shroud, and that beyond this shroud extends a whole living world with an immeasurable heaven. He does not want to rend the shroud, nor shatter his gilded sarcophagus, because he loves it.

Every man is this enshrouded, buried king.

• We are also happy to offer an introduction to the life of Saint Nicholas of Flüe, or “Brother Klaus”, patron saint of Switzerland and one of the most famous European hermits.

Brother Klaus’ Contemplation Wheel

The soul lacks but one thing—God. What separates thee from Him and Him from thee and prevents Him from doing His work in thee is this, that thou desirest to be something of thyself, and to please God through thy works. God does not want thy works, but His work.

• Finally, an article by Carl Ernst on “The Symbolism of Birds and Flight in the Writings of Ruzbihan Baqli”, affording an insight into this important aspect of Sufi literature.

Ruzbihan reminds us that the flight of the bird covers the distance between heaven and earth; its arrival on earth and its departure to heaven imitate and embody the journey of the soul from its origin to its end, just as the bird’s song can praise God or deliver a scriptural epiphany to humanity. When we read Persian poets telling for the thousandth time of the nightingale’s song to the rose, or the bird who nests in eternity, we should not be lulled into dullness, anaesthetized by mere repetition. Mystical authors like Ruzbihan can help us recover the experiential power of a symbol…

Womanhood, Religious Craftsmen and Confucian Politics,

April 21st, 2015

We open our selection this week with a rare audio recorded lecture, “Womanhood, an Islamic Perspective”, by Thomas Cleary, the renowned translator of Far Eastern classics:

The instructive metaphors for meditative processes are in fact metaphors from the processes of gestation and nursing. There is the image of the man becoming pregnant… These are representations of the kind of moment-to-moment, very intimate, very intense inwardness and concentration that is naturally part of the process of carrying a baby and nursing a baby. And if we think in Islamic terms, of real nature being itself, real religion, we have to then believe that this faculty of this incredible patience and punctilious awareness is a natural inherent gift of womanhood… In this tradition the reverence for the woman is connected not only to the function of compassion but also to this power of concentration which the men try to imitate.

• We are happy to add to our growing collection of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s works his essay on the “Religious Ideas in Craftsmanship”, from his early work The Indian Craftsman:

The craftsman is not an individual expressing individual whims, but a part of the universe, giving expression to ideals of eternal beauty and unchanging laws, even as do the trees and flowers whose natural and less ordered beauty is no less God-given.

• Finally, we bring a new contributor, William Keli’i Akina, with an article on the “I Ching and the Metaphysical Roots of the Confucian Political Ideal”

Tianming (the “Mandate of Heaven”) creates a dual accountability for all rulers, one that is immanent as a duty to the people and metaphysical as a duty to tian (Heaven) and dao. In the Chinese worldview, the fulfillment of this duty is essential for the flourishing of unity and harmony within society as the outworking of dao. Its violation harms society.

Three Things, Ritual Prayer and Martial Arts

April 1st, 2015

We open our selection this week with an excerpt from The Sparkling Stone, by the Flemish medieval mystic John of Ruysbroeck:

The God-seeing man who has forsaken self and all things, and does not feel himself drawn away because he no longer possesses anything as his own, but stands empty of all, he can always enter, naked and unencumbered with images, into the inmost part of his spirit. There he finds revealed an Eternal Light, and in this light, he feels the eternal demand of the Divine Unity; and he feels himself to be an eternal fire of love, which craves above all else to be one with God.

Ruusbroec miniatuur
Ruysbroeck in the forest, from a 14th century miniature

• Ruggero Vimercati-Sanseverino contributes an article on the symbolism of Islamic ritual prayer (salat) according to two major Sufi masters: Hakim al-Tirmidhi and Ahmad Ibn ‘Ajiba:

…by the performance of ritual prayer man is able to fulfill the primordial covenant he took with God before creation. The obligatory character of prayer is only a consequence of the engagement which man’s spirit took with God.

• And a recent lecture by Juan Acevedo on the deep affinities between Kung Fu or Chinese Martial Arts and the visual arts and crafts:

The geometry of martial arts is the same geometry of other traditional Chinese disciplines: painting, geomancy, medicine, calligraphy… they are all derived from the source of Chinese civilisation, namely the trigrams and hexagrams that constitute the core of the Classic of Changes, the I Ching

• There are still a few places available on the Sacred Gardens course, a practical & philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place this year from 22nd to 25th May in the City of Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details.

Shinto Mediation, Liberating the Heart and Yogic Mindfulness

March 18th, 2015

Considered one of the traditional thirteen sects of Shinto, and called by some “the fulfilment of Shinto”, the Konko-Kyo school is based on the concept of “deliverance through mediation”. An article by Delwin B. Schneider gives us an introduction to this new and old Japanese faith:

When man becomes a living Kami, it follows that he becomes an agent of mediation between Kami and man. In this sense, Kami becomes man and man becomes Kami. It is this act of mediation which is performed both by priest and layman.

• We also have this week the audio recording of a recent talk by Reza Shah-Kazemi, “Liberating the Heart: Sufi Perspectives on Qur’anic Psychology”:

This oil, the Spirit hidden within the soul, which we can only get to once we crush these olives of the soul… is transparent, because the heart, which is like a mirror, has been polished by the remembrance of God, so that the one and only Light of God falls upon it.

• And finally a new article and translation of a very early short text on the yogic path, the Carakasamhita, with some surprising references to Buddhist meditation and a previously unknown eightfold path to the mindfulness which is key to liberation:

The Pali term sati (Sanskrit smrti) can denote memory in two quite distinct senses. First, it denotes memory as the simple bringing-to-mind of events that happened at an earlier period in time, the mental act required to answer such questions as “what did I have for breakfast?” In a second sense, it means the deepening of one’s consciousness, of one’s experiential awareness of the present moment. This is the alert self­ recollection that people experience at special or shocking moments in life, or as a result of deliberate forms of meditation practice.

• There are still a few places available on the Sacred Gardens course, a practical & philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place this year from 22nd to 25th May in the City of Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details.

Lent Joy, Tiantai Contemplation and Teaching Religion

February 28th, 2015

Our first new piece this week is a reflection on Lent by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, explaining how “contrary to what many think or feel, Lent is a time of joy”

It is a time when we come back to life… Unless we understand this quality of joy in Lent, we will make of it a monstrous caricature, a time when in God’s own name we make our life a misery.

• Prof. Hans-Rudolf Kantor discusses the basic concepts of lesser known Tiantai Buddhism in his article “Contemplation: Practice, Doctrine and Wisdom in the Teaching of Zhiyi”

The teaching aims at the unobstructed and pure comprehension of the absolute value of salvation within each concrete moment of existence, perceived by sentient beings. This perception is combined with the immediately proper acting and wholesome transformation caused through this comprehension.

• Finally an audio recording of Harry Oldmeadow’s recent talk on the teaching of religion, with a view in particular to the teaching of religious studies in secondary schools, and the puzzles and conundrums it poses.

One of the problems is that religion is thought of by an awful lot of people as just another form of ideology… just a kind of cultural construct.

Truth Loved, Buddhist-Christian Dialogue and Eastern Wisdom

February 12th, 2015

We open our selection this week with a brief article on the Russian philosopher and mystic Pavel Florensky, “Truth Is Not Known Unless It Is Loved”, by Fr Patrick Henry Reardon:

With few exceptions… the twentieth-century Western philosopher stands several steps removed from the ancient understanding of metaphysics, so that on the whole he does not realize exactly what, several centuries ago, he truly did lose. Long accustomed now to viewing the pursuit of knowledge solely in terms either of logical abstraction or empirical objectivity or some combination of both, most Western philosophers seem no longer familiar even with the essential nature of metaphysical thought.

• By Zen Master Akizuki Ryomin, an article exploring the possibility of a deep Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

As long as one has not experienced this intimately and of one’s own, the satori that takes place in the head through the mere toying with words, one is no more than a “scholar” drawing inferences and writing them up in books.

A little known introduction to René Guénon’s work by Ananda Coomaraswamy, where the basic tenets of the traditional philosophy (Philosophia Perennis et Universalis) are outlined with a striking relevancy to our contemporary situation.

Literacy is a practical necessity in an industrial society, where the keeping of accounts is all important. But… to have heard is far more important than to have read… it is not necessary that anyone should be literate; it is only necessary that there should be amongst the people philosophers (in the traditional, not the modern sense of the word), and that there should be preserved deep respect on the part of laymen for true learning.

• Your attention is drawn to a new opportunity to join the acclaimed Sacred Gardens course, a practical & philosophical workshop led by Emma Clark, taking place this year from 22nd to 25th May in the City of Wells, Somerset. Please follow this link for details.

What is Man, Music and Harmony, and Confucian Rites

January 20th, 2015

We open this week’s selection with a brief article by Fr Patrick Reardon, “What Is Man?”:

If we adhere to the full anthropology of divine revelation, it is strictly speaking not true that “human nature does not change.” Indeed, it is the very business of divine revelation to cause human nature to change.

“Music as Therapy: the analogy between music and medicine in Neoplatonism”, by our new collaborator Sebastián Moro-Tornese:

Instead of thinking in terms of attaining harmony as a “result” or “possession”, we can understand music as a work of disinterested love and knowledge that prepares us for the reception of inner Silence and harmony as an intuition or re-enactment of Unity, which liberates the soul from its multiple sense perceptions, passions and possessions…

• And finally by John Wu, Jr, an article on “Thomas Merton and Confucian Rites”, clearing some misconceptions about the Confucian tradition:

Disharmony and alienation occur when no one quite knows for certain who he or she is supposed to be; that is, when we have lost our identity or when, in the case of ideas, a concept such as love, for example, becomes for all practical purposes the dominant province of soap operas, ad agencies, and, most absurd and tragic of all, appropriated by totalitarian governments.

Intra-Religious Dialogue, a Cloistered Garden and Future Tradition

January 5th, 2015

We start the new year with our recent December lecture by Harry Oldmeadow, “Looking Forward to Tradition: Ancient Truths and Modern Delusions”, where the author examines the conventional notions of progress in contrast with the timelessness of the perennial wisdom:

No one will deny that modernity has its compensations, though these are often of a quite different order from the loudly trumpeted ‘benefits’ of science and technology—some of which are indubitable but many of which issue in consequences far worse than the ills which they are apparently repairing.

• Josep-Maria Mallarach brings us a detailed account of the reconstruction of the Cloister Garden at the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Poblet, the largest monastic complex in Western Europe, with attention to the symbolism and spiritual influence of its elements and the rich history of the building.

• Finally, in his “Inter or Intra-Religious Dialogue?”, Gerard V. Hall SM examines common obstacles to interfaith dialogue and possible avenues to mutual understanding, especially between Christianity and Islam.

The challenge of religious dialogue is compounded by several factors. Perhaps the most serious of these is lack of grounding in one’s own religious tradition. This has less to do with knowledge of doctrines than conversion of heart, mind and spirit—which is, after all, the objective of all religions. When faith is weak, then one’s religious tradition becomes an ideology.

Wisdom Mantra, Snakes and Ladders, and Chinese Harmony

December 16th, 2014

• The mantra of Transcendent Wisdom of Manjusri, widely recited in Tibetan and Chinese traditions, is this week’s latest addition to our Sacred Audio collection.

Tibetan Manjusri
Mañjusrikumarabhuta, “Ever Young Manjusri”

• In “Road Maps for the Soul”, an original article by Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, we have a glimpse into the origin and meaning of the popular game of Snakes and Ladders, the Indian gyan chaupar, or “game of knowledge”, where the playing board is

a representation of the manifested universe with Mount Meru at the center and the four main continents spreading out in each of the four cardinal directions. The playing pieces would represent the souls of the world, circling the wheel of life in search of final liberation at the center of creation.

• In “Harmony in Popular Belief and its Relation to Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism”, Prof. Cheng Chih-ming shares an insider’s view of the subtleties of the Triple Religion, focusing on the central role of the archaic native traditions.

Together man and the universe form an entity of common destiny, for which it is necessary to keep a mutual balance and harmony.

New Books, on Being-Time and Sufi Letters

November 28th, 2014

• We are very happy to announce the publication of the first titles of our Words of Wisdom Series, two sister volumes of lectures by Martin Lings: Enduring Utterance: Collected Lectures (1993–2001) and To Take Upon Us the Mystery of Things: The Shakespeare Lectures. Follow the title links for downloadable excerpts. These books can be ordered from any bookshop around the corner and also from all major online bookshops.

• New to our shelves this week: a brief excerpt from Zen master Dogen on Being Time (uji), one of the most challenging sections from the Shobogenzo, the “Mount Everest of Japanese Buddhism”.

These passages ought not to be read as abstract metaphysic. Dogen is not speculating about the character of time and being, but is speaking out of his deepest experience of that reality. “You must cease concerning yourself with the dialectics of Buddhism and in­stead learn how to look into your own mind in seclusion.”

• And a selection of Letters by the Sufi Shaykh al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi (1760–1823), as translated by Titus Burckhardt.

What a sorry creature, this son of Adam, who effaces the Cosmos until not a trace of it remains and whom the Cosmos in its turn will obliterate until not a trace of him remains, save a faint odour which in a little while fades away altogether.

Forthcoming events: A final reminder for next Monday’s Temenos lecture at the Lincoln Centre, our Thursday Cambridge lecture for RE teachers, and our weekend of seminars with Harry Oldmeadow. Click here for details and to register.

Oxherding, the University and Lasting Joy

November 6th, 2014

Our first new addition this week is a commentary by Zen master Shodo Harada on the ancient series of Ten Oxherding Pictures tracing the path to enlightenment and beyond.

If we are burning completely, nothing we do or see catches us. We have gathered it all into one, seeing with no sense of having seen, eating with no sense of having eaten, and walking with no sense of having walked. We have to pass through this great darkness once, gathering everything into this darkness, compressing everything into it, until there is no place for even a single thought to enter. If we realize this place we become totally transparent.

An article by Jean-Luc Marion on “The Universality of the University”, reflecting on the consequences of the professionalization and specialization of academia:

An animal knows within the limits of its desire and desires within the limits of what it knows, whereas man knows according to the measure of his limitless desire, and therefore desires what he does not know. To man belongs the privilege of asking questions without immediate answers.

“Everlasting Joy”, a brief homily by Fr Pavel Florensky on a cryptic excerpt of the Orthodox liturgy:

…with a treasure in our bosom everyone of us wanders with a longing over the face of the earth, and often we do not even believe that it is possible to find such a pearl—even far, far away. Blessed is he who has discovered his own treasure.

Forthcoming events: Less than a month now before our lecture and seminars with Harry Oldmeadow. Click here for details, including “Some Puzzles and Conundrums in the Teaching of Religion”, an evening conversation in Cambridge with RE teachers.

Yoga and Power, Survival and the Cherubinic Wanderer

October 16th, 2014

• Our first new addition this week is an article by James L. Fitzgerald on “A Prescription for Yoga and Power in the Mahabharata,” with a brief text on the truths relating to moksha, the “freedom of an arrow in flight”:

…as a pilot who concentrates intently guides his ocean-going ship swiftly into port, so he who knows the fundamental prin­ciples of the world and has engaged in concentration of his Self by means of yoga harnessing, reaches a position that is very hard to get to, once he leaves this body behind.

• An article by Lord Northbourne on “The Survival of Civilization”:

In exalting our own powers over Nature we diminish ourselves, for the realisation of our full potentiality does not depend on the development and exercise of those powers for our own terrestrial advantage; it depends entirely on the fulfilment by us of our spiritual function; for that alone can keep us in touch with the imperishable and finally bring us into union with it.

• And finally, adding to our Mystical Poetry Collection, we have a selection of poems by the German mystic Angelus Silesius, with original audio in German and English:

Freund, es ist auch genug. Im Fall du mehr willst lesen,
So geh und werde selbst die Schrift und selbst das Wesen.

Friend, it is now enough. Wouldst thou read more, go hence,
Become thyself the Writing and thyself the Essence.

• The Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius invites you to a forthcoming talk by Fr Maximus Lavriotes on “Hesychasm and the Integrity of Human Nature.” Wednesday 22nd October at St James’s Church, Paddington. Please click here for full details.

Why Work, the Zen Lectures and Anatheism

October 3rd, 2014

This week, from our shelves, a now famous article by Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?”, more than ever a timely reminder of what a normal relation between man and his work is:

…we should fight tooth and nail, not for mere employment, but for the quality of the work that we had to do. We should clamour to be engaged in work that was worth doing, and in which we could take pride… The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.

• One of the most authoritative and concise introductions to Zen and to the heart of the Buddhist way in general, the series of lectures by Yasutani Hakuun Roshi:

The first of the three essentials of Zen practice is strong faith… more than mere belief… a faith that is firmly and deeply rooted, immovable, like an immense tree or a huge boulder… The second indispensable quality is a feeling of strong doubt… From this feeling of doubt the third essential, strong determination, naturally arises, an overwhelming determination to dispel this doubt with the whole force of our energy and will. Believing with every pore of our being in the truth that we are all endowed with the immaculate Bodhi-mind we resolve to discover and experience the reality of this Mind for ourselves.

• And finally by Rupert Sheldrake, “Rediscovering God”, a candid and engaging talk about his own anatheistic path and possibly that of the contemporary scientific paradigm:

Everyone knows what theism is: belief in God. Everyone knows what atheism is: disbelief in God. “Anatheism” means returning to God or going back to God.

Human Body, the Temple at Ise and the Rose-Garden

September 15th, 2014

Our first article this week is an interpretation of “The Image of the Human Body in Premodern India” by Dominik Wujastyk, University of Vienna.

The Taittiriya Upanishad… posits five bodies, or “atmans”: annamaya, or the physical body derived from food; pranamaya, or the body of the vital breath or airs; manomaya, or the self of the mind; vijñanamaya, or the self as a locus of knowledge; and anandamaya, or the self made of joy.

• A report of an “Interfaith Visit to the Ise Temple”, Japan’s holiest shrine, which is demolished and rebuilt every two decades in accordance with Shinto notions of death and renewal. In 2,000 years, no foreigner had witnessed the sacred ceremonies involved, until now.

The bridge giving access to Ise Jingu
Approaching Ise Jingu

The Mystic Rose Garden (Gulshan-i Raz), a masterpiece of Sufi poetry by Mahmud Shabistari, available in annotated English translation and the Persian original.

The man who knows this secret, that all things are One, dies to self, and lives, with regenerate heart, in God. He sweeps away all that comes between God and the soul, and “breaks through to the oneness,” as Eckhart said. Good works, it is true, raise men to a “laudable station,” but so long as division and duality and “self” remain, true mystical union of knower and known is not attained.

Meaning of Intellect and the Christian Desert

August 27th, 2014

This week we present a video recording of a lecture by Reza Shah-Kazemi, “Imam Ali and the Spiritual Meaning of ‘Intellect’”, given in Karachi in 2013:

Without hilm (forbearance, self-control, far-sightedness) there can be no intellect, without contentment there can be no intellectual activity, without kindness one cannot be called an intellectual, without generosity one cannot be called an intellectual; all of these dimensions have to be there if we are to conform to the criteria laid by Imam Ali for the deeper meaning of the Intellect.

• Two articles on the Christian symbolism and “practice” of the contemplative wastelands: “Desert Spirituality” by Fr Ernest Larkin, O. Carm.:

A special appeal to heroic souls was the belief that the demons infested the wastelands and could be met there in open combat. It did not take long for the desert dweller to discover that the demons were within and to be engaged on the battleground of the soul.

• And “The Desert as Reality and Symbol” by Fr Donald Goergen OP:

… uncontaminated nature has a revelatory power which is manifest in the beauty it expresses. In a strange contrast to the harshness of the desert, mountains, or sea, one is overwhelmed by their beauty as much as by one’s dependency… it is this beauty, as well as one’s dependency, which turns one’s heart and mind to God. The beauty reveals a beautiful face of God: God is beauty.

Know Thyself, Divine Energies and Human Perfection

August 11th, 2014

Our first addition this week is a brief homily by Demetrios, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America, on the ancient Delphic maxim, “Know Thyself”, and its place in Christian spirituality.

“If you give heed to yourself, you will not need to look for signs of the Creator in the structure of the universe; but in yourself, as in a miniature replica of cosmic order, you will contemplate the great wisdom of the Creator.” In other words, man is a microcosm…

An article by David Bradshaw on the relation between the reality of the divine glory and the divine energies, and on the place of this concept in Orthodox theology and in Christian theology in general.

The Christian tradition has always contained the resources for a view of God that is both philosophically cogent and Scripturally sound. All we have to do is look to the East.

• Finally, an article by William Chittick on “The Islamic Concept of Human Perfection”, considering the profound relevance and the contemporary fate of this crucial Islamic doctrine in which metaphysics and traditional psychology converge:

The Islamic concept of human perfection has been banished from the stage, to be replaced by various types of outwardly orientated human endeavour borrowed from contemporary ideologies. The traditional Muslim quietly set out on a personal quest, while the modern zealot shouts slogans from the pulpits with the aim of reforming everyone but himself.

The Roman Philosopher, Sherrard and Nature

July 25th, 2014

Our new library additions include a selection of letters by Seneca “the Younger”, one of the favourite Roman authors of medieval Christendom, in whose works ancient philosophy is clearly seen as a way of inner purification and self-transcendence, akin to the contemplative lives of the religious traditions.

Let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.

• In a brief chapter entitled “The Rape of Nature”, Philip Sherrard addresses concisely the current “desanctification” of nature and its profound causes in the “dehumanization” of man:

Once we repossess a sense of our own holiness, we will recover a sense of the holiness of the world about us as well and we will then act towards the world about us with the awe and humility that we should possess when we enter a sacred shrine, a temple of love and beauty in which we are to worship and adore the Creator.

• Complementing the above, we have a video recorded interview in which Bishop Kallistos Ware shares his memories and reflections on Philip Sherrard’s life and work:

He said that “tradition” is the preservation and handing on of a method of contemplation. Not just texts written in books, but a way of looking at the wholeness of reality.

• Preparations are under way for a week of events in December with Prof. Harry Oldmeadow from Australia. Please follow this link for details and to register your interest.

• Your attention is drawn to the Covenants Initiative, an acclaimed interfaith initiative based on ancient and little known texts attributed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Yudhishthira and His Dog, Exploring Interiority and the Classic on the Ka‘bah

July 11th, 2014

The high-souled Pandavas and Draupadi of great fame, having observed the preliminary fast, set out with their faces towards the east. Setting themselves on Yoga, those high-souled ones resolved to observe the religion of Renunciation, traversed through various countries and reached diverse rivers and seas… While the Pandavas set out for the forest, a dog followed them.

So begins the shortest book of the Mahabharata, the “Book of the Great Journey” (Mahaprasthanika Parva), where the most curious and profound story of “Yudhishthira and His Dog” unfolds between Heaven and earth.

From Fr Giuseppe Scattolin, “Exploring Human Interiority”, a new article where the need for a deeper interreligious dialogue is argued for:

It is specifically in the taking of a stance before the Absolute that every religion reveals its most characteristic originality but also surprising matches with other religions.

• Finally, we present a rare translation of a Chinese Muslim poem from the 18th century, the Three-Character Rhymed Classic on the Ka‘bah, where “the Revelations of the Indian, the Chinese and the Semitic worlds” converge to produce a truly original work of art.

The doctrines of the Ka‘bah
pervade the Confucian Classics
and have been handed down over a myriad ages
to dispel ignorance and obscurity.

Bhagavad Gita, Intellectual Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue

June 25th, 2014

This week we are giving access through our shelves to an English translation of the Bhagavad Gita with the famous commentary by Shankara. Following this link you will be able to read a short selection and also to download the entire work, including the original Sanskrit text.

Whatever fruit of merit is declared by the scriptures to be attainable when the Vedas are properly studied, when the sacrifices are performed in all their parts, when austerities are well practised, —beyond all this multitude of fruits rises the Yogin who rightly understands and follows the teaching imparted by the Lord in His answers to the seven questions, and he then attains to the highest abode of Ishvara, which existed even in the beginning. He attains Brahman, the Cause.

• We also bring a new article by Lord Northbourne on “Intellectual Freedom”, looking dispassionately at many of our modern superstitions:

Anyone who clings to religion is clinging, not to an arbitrary framework of man’s devising, but to the only framework that can serve as a starting-point for the realization of an inward freedom that is independent of terrestrial contingencies. Moreover this inward freedom is a truly intellectual freedom in so far as it is founded on an integral vision of truth, on a vision which is unified at its source because it comes from within and is not derived exclusively from the observation of the dispersed and fugitive relativities of this world.

• Finally, Fr Giuseppe Scattolin shares from Cairo his reflections on the relevance of “Spirituality in Interreligious Dialogue”:

Dialogue, in fact, does not involve only theoretical thinking, necessary as it may be. It must be, in the first place, a meeting at the level of spiritual life and religious experience which are the heart of all religions.

Walking as Duty, Common Ground and Confucian Analects

June 6th, 2014

Our latest library additions include an article by Elliot Wolfson on the symbolism of walking in the Jewish tradition, especially as elaborated in Hasidic writings:

The proper worship of God was said to be realized even as one physically walked about and was engaged in social commerce. As such, halikhah, walking, became a popular metaphor for following the spiritual path.

• In the wake of our “Common Ground: Islam-Buddhism” event, we offer the contributions of our speakers, Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato and Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi, dealing with Pure Land Buddhism and Islam:

In Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva’s ideal is ‘benefiting oneself and at the same time benefiting others.’ In this context ‘benefiting’ means ‘awakening to the truth of life’. In other words, to love others as much as you love yourself is an imperative for any seeker after truth, whatever tradition they belong to.

• A bilingual excerpt of the Confucian Analects (Lun Yu), with access to audio recordings, as a glimpse into this seminal text of the Far Eastern tradition:

The Master said, ‘At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts; at fifty I understood the Decree of Heaven; at sixty my ear became subtly perceptive; at seventy I followed my heart’s desire without overstepping the line.’

The Temple, Beauty and the Wisdom of a Cat

May 16th, 2014

This week our library additions include an article by Leo Schaya on “The Meaning of the Temple” in the Jewish tradition:

One with God’s entire creation, man’s sanctified soul (neshamah) rises like incense from the golden altar of his heart and presses through the most inward curtain of his being to the Holy of Holies within it. Here, over the sacred Ark of its intimacy with God, the soul finds the redeeming cover of the reconciliation of all duality.

• An audio recorded Friday sermon (khutbah) delivered in Cambridge by T.J. Winter on the theme of “Beauty and the Sunna”:

We need the fatwas of the ulama’, but we also need the fatwas of the heart, guided and uplifted by the people of hearts, of the people who help us to overcome the ego, to shut that infernal trapdoor, and to rise to that level in which alone we can find true peace.

• And a concise Japanese swordmanship treatise, handed down from master to master of a Kendo lineage for centuries, where the heart of the Far Eastern Triple Religion is explicated by an old cat:

“I am only an animal and the rat is my food. How should I know about human affairs? All I know is this: the meaning of the art of combat is not merely a matter of vanquishing one’s opponent. It is rather an art by which at a given time one enters into the great clarity of the primal light of death and life.”

Monastic Rules and the Death of a Sufi Saint

April 30th, 2014

This week we bring to our library some of the rich Vinaya literature—guidance for the monastic life—of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, in parallel with a Christian counterpart from the Carmelite order.

The two volumes of translations from the Pali encompass the rules and the customs of the monks.

Discipline is for the sake of restraint, restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse, freedom from remorse for the sake of joy, joy for the sake of rapture, rapture for the sake of tranquility, tranquility for the sake of pleasure, pleasure for the sake of concentration, concentration for the sake of knowledge and vision of things as they have come to be, knowledge and vision of things as they have come to be for the sake of disenchantment, disenchantment for the sake of dispassion, dispassion for the sake of release, release for the sake of knowledge and vision of release, knowledge and vision of release for the sake of total unbinding through non-clinging.

• And the ancient Rule of St Albert Avogadro is presented along with an excerpt from The Ten Books on the Way of Life and Great Deeds of the Carmelites:

Although an understanding of this way of life consists in experience alone—and this understanding cannot be given fully in words alone unless from someone who is experienced, nor can it be completely grasped by you unless with equal application and toil you strive to learn it through experience—nevertheless, you will be able to follow the teaching of this way of life much better and be encouraged to practise it more fervently if you understand the worthiness of its members and founders, and are acquainted with the original pattern of life of the Order.

• Finally, an original French article by Eric Geoffroy about the deaths of the saints in Islam, with attention to the symbolism and the ascetic implications of the Sufi ars moriendi: “La mort du saint en Islam”:

“ Conduis-toi dans ce monde comme un homme qui jeûne, et envisage ton dernier jour comme la fête de la rupture du jeûne (‘îd al-fitr) ”.

• Your attention is drawn to the upcoming: Sacred Gardens course, a practical & philosophical workshop with Emma Clark, from 9th to 11th May in Wells, UK..

The Passion, Anitas, the Jewel in the Lotus

April 15th, 2014

Our first addition this week is “Praying the Passion”, a Catholic meditation on the spiritual exercises related to the Passion of Christ, by Fr Donal O’Sullivan:

“It is not abundance of knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the inward sense and taste of things”… the man who has thoroughly soaked his understanding and imagination in the sufferings of the Son of God will ultimately —with God’s grace— “smell and taste, with the senses of smell and taste, the infinite fragrance and sweetness of the Godhead, of the soul and its virtues, and of all else…”

• Next, a foundational article for the study of medieval metaphysics, tracing the origin and development of the curious term anitas, the Divine “thatness”, through the shared efforts of Greek, Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers over the centuries. Text in French, with lengthy quotations from Avicenna and Aquinas.

L’être, depuis son extrémité supérieure jusqu’à son extrémité inférieure occupe quatre degrés différents qui sont : le que, le quoi, le comment et le pourquoi. Le degré supérieur est le que, qui n’a ni quoi, ni comment, ni pourquoi, et c’est l’Un véritable, le Très Haut.

• We note finally the addition of a new item to our Sacred Audio collection: the “mantra of Compassion”, Om Mani Padme Hum, which is said to summarise all the teachings of the Buddha, including two select recordings and an explanatory video clip by HH the Dalai Lama.

• Upcoming events: —26 April, Vancouver, Sacred Web 2014 Conference on the theme of “Rediscovering the Sacred in our Lives and in our Times.” —From 9th to 11th May, Sacred Gardens, practical & philosophical workshop with Emma Clark.

Flowers, Pure Land and Indian Saints

March 31st, 2014

Our latest library additions include a now classic article by Lord Northbourne on the symbolism of flowers:

…we are speaking of the world, and that is exactly what the world is, perfection manifested in imperfection, the absolute in the relative, the infinite in the finite; every part of the world mirrors the whole. The paradoxical or mysterious or miraculous character of the world is reflected in the gaiety, the subtlety and the extravagance of its floral adornment.

An article by Harold Stewart on the development and essential teachings of True Pure Land school of Buddhism:

Faith is distinguished by three qualities: it is sincere without admixture of doubt or endeavour; it is single-minded in its reliance on the Other Power; and it is continuous in its trust and longing for Rebirth. The characteristics of Faith are clarity, calm, and happiness, and on no account should it be confused with mere belief, a wishful attachment of the mind and emotions to an ideology or dogma, which may be true or false… What then can be done to acquire that pure selfless Faith which we lack and which alone can extricate us from our human predicament?

• And a brief article by D.M. Matheson on the lives of “Two Indian Saints”, bearing witness to the peaceful and fruitful coexistence of Hinduism and Buddhism over the centuries.

• Upcoming events: —This is the last reminder for our Islam-Buddhism Common Ground event with Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato and Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi. —26 April, Vancouver, Sacred Web 2014 Conference on the theme of “Rediscovering the Sacred in our Lives and in our Times.” —From 9th to 11th May, Sacred Gardens, practical & philosophical workshop with Emma Clark.

Common Word Conversation, Psycho-Analysis and Arabic Wisdom

March 14th, 2014

This week we present the video recording of our “Common Word” 2013 conversation, as it took place at Clare College Cambridge last November, involving Rowan Williams, Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter) and David Ford in deep and convivial shared reflections on the theology and implications of Christian-Islamic dialogue.

• From the rare articles penned by D.M. Matheson, we bring “Psycho-Analysis and Spirituality”, with particular attention to the Hindu tradition and its relation to modernist ideas:

Words have not only such private and personal associations as psychologists lay stress on in their free association tests, they also often have “historical” associations for a given society and at least some have a well nigh universal significance as symbols. “The Tao which can be named is no longer the Tao,” and the nearer to the Tao, we might say, the less can words directly serve to define.

• Our readers will appreciate the addition of Arabic audio readings and an original Arabic PDF to our existing translation of the famous Hikam (Sufi Aphorisms) of Ibn Ata’ Allah of Alexandria. Regarding the musicality of the Hikam, a centuries-old Islamic saying affirms that “If it were allowed to recite anything other than the Quran during the canonic prayer, it would be the Hikam.”

The cosmos is large in respect to your body but is not large in respect to your soul.

• Upcoming events: 26 April, Vancouver, Sacred Web 2014 Conference on the theme of “Rediscovering the Sacred in our Lives and in our Times.” —Our April Islam-Buddhism Common Ground event: film screening followed by a question and answer session with Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato and Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi. —From 9th to 11th May, Sacred Gardens, practical & philosophical workshop with Emma Clark.

Knowledge, Gold and Principles of Nature

February 28th, 2014

Our latest library additions include the first of a series of articles by the founder of our Trust, Donald Macleod Matheson, on “Knowledge and KNOWLEDGE”:

If, as has been said, this new kind of knowledge is indescribable, its nature has none the less been indicated through the use of paradox and symbols and its quality has been described as Bliss.

• A new audio recording of a Cambridge Friday sermon by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter), on the symbolism of gold and its dangers and virtues:

The negative aspect of gold, or its pursuit is shown in the stories of the Israelites, that ‘show what we can be when we are our best and our worst.’

A foundational chapter by Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the resacralisation of nature in view of the metaphysical and unanimous traditional approach to science:

Only the revival of a spiritual conception of nature that is based on intellectual and metaphysical doctrines can hope to neutralize the havoc brought about by the applications of modern science and integrate this science itself into a more universal perspective.

Upcoming events: On April 4th, to celebrate the World Interfaith Harmony Week, we host in London an Islam-Buddhism Common Ground event: film screening followed by a question and answer session with Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato and Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi. —And from 9th to 11th May, a practical & philosophical workshop on Sacred Gardens with Emma Clark (click here for details).

Ajahn Chah, the Name of Jesus, and Enlightenment for Ordinary People

February 10th, 2014

Our first new addition this week is a video clip with the Thai Forest Buddhist master Ajahn Chah, recorded while on a visit to England during the 1970s.

The ultimate truth is like the flavour of an apple: you can’t see it with the eye, or hear it with the ear. The only way to experience it is to put the teaching into practice.

“A Sermon on the Glorious Name of Jesus Christ” by Saint Bernadine of Siena.

“ask and you shall receive that your joy may be complete”. “Ask”, He says, “and receive”—that is, through the power of My Name… this Name, not visualized, not appended to a request—just the Name alone, and He adds: “that your joy might be complete”… Now eternal glory is called a joy for three reasons. First, every desire of the soul is filled to excess… Second, it consists in the vision, fruition and possession, in its entirety, of the consummation of goodness, which is the Triune God… Third, this joy is so great, and of such a nature, that it cannot be lost, whence John says to his disciples: “and no one will take away your joy from you”.

• In a lecture entitled “Enlightenment for Ordinary People”, Daiei Kaneko (1881-1976) introduces several basic aspects of the Jodo Shinshu tradition:

…there are many types of power. For example, it is not too difficult to subdue or subjugate bandits in the mountains; but it is hard to subdue the bandits in our mind. The power and force needed to subjugate these different kinds of bandits are not the same. The nuclear power that might destroy the entire human race doesn’t seem to be able to destroy human anger.

• Upcoming events: a practical & philosophical workshop on Sacred Gardens with Emma Clark: three-day event in Wells, Somerset, from 9th to 11th May (click here for details). And an evening on the Islam-Buddhism Common Ground project, initiated by the Dalai Lama and Prince Ghazi of Jordan (click here for details): film screening followed by a question and answer session with Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi.

Julius Caesar, Blessed Passion, Endless Travelling and Sacred Gardens

January 23rd, 2014

Recent additions to our library include an article by Adrian Paterson, on a subtle point relating to Roman history and politics, Divus Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar the Divine):

…combien peu importantes pour Jules César étaient ses conquêtes et ses œuvres littéraires par comparaison avec son rôle de chef spirituel de tout l’empire romain et avec ce que ceci implique de qualités spirituelles. Si cette interprétation de son rôle d’intermédiaire est admise, plusieurs faits de sa vie sont expliqués par là.

• An article on traditional psychology by Bronwen Neil, “The Blessed Passion of Holy Love”, with particular reference to the writings of Maximus the Confessor:

The aim of the ascetic struggle is dispassion, or disinterestedness (apatheia)… detachment from the irrational parts of the soul… not detachment for its own sake, “but only so that, in their purified state, they can be reintegrated into the whole human being.” Only through such reintegration can Christians fully and truly love God, and consequently love themselves (for we are made in the image of God) and the rest of the created world.

• And “The Endless Voyage”, an article by Michel Chodkiewicz on the symbolism of travel as developed by Ibn ‘Arabi:

Thus, willingly or not, knowingly or not, each creature is travelling on a path. But, as an untranslatable play on words in the Arabic title suggests, this path cannot properly be called a “voyage” (safar) unless it is also a disclosure or an unveiling (isfar)

• We would like to draw your attention to an upcoming “practical & philosophical workshop” on Sacred Gardens by Emma Clark. This three-day event will take place in Wells, Somerset, from 9th to 11th May. Please follow this link for more details.

From Religious Form, Chinese Time and the Redemption of the Sparks

January 8th, 2014

This week our first contribution is a recent talk by Reza Shah-Kazemi, “From Religious Form to Spiritual Essence: Esoteric Perspectives on Islam and Christianity,” dealing in particular with insights from Ibn Arabi and Meister Eckhart:

We call this humility ‘radical’ because it goes to the very root of our existence, or rather, it uncovers the fundamental ambiguity of our existence: that we are at once pure nothingness and pure Being. The gnostics, the true knowers, are aware that their true identity is the Real… they recognize themselves in the Light which they discover in the depths of their hearts.

From the Philippines, an article by Manuel Dy, Jr. on “The Chinese View of Time”:

Just as a good teacher “reviews the old so as to find out the new,” so also time creatively reappropriates or recuperates the past, instead of merely reinstalling or destroying it.

And finally an article by Louis Jacobs surveying and explaining the crucial kabbalistic doctrine of the “uplifting of sparks” (birur hanitzutzot), as part of the ongoing “reparation of the world” (tikun olam):

We find many a hasidic tale of a master being propelled by a force beyond his control to journey to distant places for no other purpose than to carry out there some task, otherwise neutral or insignificant, that would have the effect of rescuing the holy sparks held there captive by the kelipot—these sparks awaiting the coming of the one rescuer whose soul-root is close to them in the divine scheme.

Basho’s Narrow Road, Beowulf, the Axis Mundi and the Wine Song

December 20th, 2013

• This week our library news include an introduction and audio recording of one of the most revered works in Japanese contemplative literature, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior (Oku no Hosomichi), called by some “a study in Eternity”, under the guise of a poet’s travel diary.

• A rare gem, one of the only two articles penned by Adrian Paterson, in the original French, as published in Études Traditionelles in 1939: “L’Ésotérisme de Béowulf” gives an original exegesis of the famous Old English epic, asserting that one of the main themes of the poem is “la réalisation de «l’Identité Suprême» par le héros”. Click here to access the PDF.

• An article by Arthur Green on the cosmic role of the “Just” or Zaddiq in Jewish tradition.

The zaddiq is no longer the dreaming observer of the angels who go up and down the ladder’s rungs, as was the biblical Jacob. Nor is he a participant in the constant movement along the ladder… Here the zaddiq himself is the ladder; it is through him that others may ascend to God.

• Finally, our readers’ attention is drawn to the recent addition of a new Arabic original recording of the famous Wine-Song of Umar Ibn al-Farid (Sharibna ala dhikri al-habib). Click here to go to the post.

Giqatila, Sufi Encounters, Tibetan Wisdom, Metaphysics of Beauty

December 5th, 2013

• From Rabbi Shlomo Blickstein, a dissertation on the Philosophical-Qabbalistic Writings of Joseph Giqatila, a key figure in the development of the Kabbalah in the Middle Ages, author of the seminal Ginnat Egoz (The Garden of the Nut).

Any person who is considered Perfect Man conjoins with the name of YHWH; there is no intermediary between them. And this is the esoteric meaning (sod) of “Let us make man in Our image.” He is called adam amiti because he is near the First Cause.

• In a now classic article, “The Marriage of Wisdom and Method”, Marco Pallis gives an intimate view of Tibetan Buddhism and its particular approach to the relation between doctrine and the spiritual way.

Orthodoxy (not pharisaism) can speak to orthodoxy; neither heterodoxy nor a diluted faith is able to speak effectively to anyone. Contemplative intelligence, the “eye of the heart”, can render all forms transparent, including one’s own form; it does not do away with those forms—indeed far from it—nor does it encourage, in the name of so-called charity, an attitude of intellectual flabbiness as deadly to mutual understanding as it is to faith.

• After our recent Cambridge event, Michael Sugich has kindly contributed some excerpts of his vivid Signs on the Horizons, a memoir full of insights into the recent decades and the contemporary living tradition of Sufism across the Muslim world.

• Finally, in a rich talk on the metaphysics of aesthetics in the Islamic tradition, Reza Shah-Kazemi interprets and develops the Prophetic saying “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” This audio recording, made possible by the Prince’s School for Traditional Arts, includes a particularly illuminating question and answer session at the end.

God is not only beautiful by nature; He is continuously overflowing with beauty, just as the sun ceaselessly radiates and illuminates by its very nature. This Beauty is cast into the mirrors of creation, which thereby display the innumerable, kaleidoscopic expressions of this One and Only Beauty.

Divine Love, Science Dogmas, Leonard Cohen and the Metaphysics of Money

November 21st, 2013

• Our latest library additions include a Temenos Academy video recorded lecture by Prof. William C. Chittick, speaking about “Divine Love in Early Persian Prose”:

Know that in reality no fragant herb subtler than the herb of love grew in the meadows of lordhood and servanthood. It is Love that conveys a man to the Beloved—everything else is a highway robber on the path. All the attributes of the tawhid-voicers fall apart in tawhid. All the attributes of the lovers come to nothing in Love.

• In his article “Setting Science Free From Materialism,” Rupert Sheldrake shows how a science that remained closer to its own ideal would at the same time be closer to traditional world views:

The sciences as taught in Asia, Africa, the Islamic countries, and elsewhere are still packaged in an ideology shaped by their European past. Materialism gains its persuasive power from the technological applications of science. But the successes of these applications do not prove that this ideology is true.

“New Jerusalem Glowing”, an article by Elliot R. Wolfson on the works of Leonard Cohen, touching on many facets and the mystical side of the poet’s work:

The one who has no tears to weep has no song to sing. Between desolation and elation is the still-point where the poet finds his footing.

• Finally, an insightful article by Prof. David C. Schindler “Why Socrates Didn’t Charge: Plato and the Metaphysics of Money,” shedding light on the deep causes of contemporary financial debacle:

A strictly money-based economy can grow only in a purely “horizontal” sense, which means in terms of geographical expansion or the multiplication of non-necessary desires. To use money to produce money, in abstraction from the limits determined by real goods, is necessarily at some level to betray the order of the good.

Shaykh Yusuf, Wisdom of Animals, Pico’s Secret and Chinese and Hindu Art

November 6th, 2013

• Recent additions to our library include a rare collection of Sufi writings by the influential Southeast Asian Shaykh Yusuf al-Khalwati al-Maqassari (d. 1699):

So make good the transformation of your soul and the flow of entry into your soul and confine it to the remembrance of Allah, ponder on the glorious Name of the Most High in the depth of your heart, and its light will radiate and it will encompass all your limbs and everything else.

• An audio lecture by William Chittick on “The Wisdom of Animals”, elucidating a passage from Ibn Arabi’s Meccan Revelations:

Animals, who are ruled by the Name “Abaser” (al-Mudhill), have a much more exalted position with God than most human beings. This is precisely because animals gladly accept their “abasement”, whereas human beings tend to forget they are nothing.

• From UCLA Professor Brian Copenhaver, a crucial article on the history of European philosophy, “The Secret of Pico’s Oration: Cabala and Renaissance Philosophy”, which clarifies the nature and intent of what has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”, dissociating it from Enlightenment philosophy and worldview.

As angels of contemplation, the Cherubs live at this summit of divinity, but their way of life reaches down to the first ethical exercises required of those who emulate them. Thus, having chosen the Cherubic way of life as the best way to form a formless human nature, Pico finds himself at the lower philosophical stages of an ascetic and mystical ascent to ecstasy. Once he has made this choice, philosophy is his obligation…

• Finally, another seminal article on comparative studies by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy: “What is Common to Indian and Chinese Art?”

However much your mentality may be opposed to the method of induction from First Principles, there is no other method by which Oriental civilizations can be made intelligible. The method of deduction from observed fact… leads only to description and classification, which may be “accurate”, but need not imply any comprehension of or assimilation to the thing described and classified. Description and classification are acts of the mind; comprehension an act of the pure intellect.

American Indian Ways, Health for Scholars and the Art of Dying

October 22nd, 2013

• Our latest library addition is an exclusive and generous audio recorded interview with Chief James Trosper, Sun Dance Chief of the Shoshone people in Wyoming, who tells us about Native American spirituality, history and perspectives:

There is a lot of good blessings that have come to our people through this way of praying. It has been a really good way for us to get the help that we need, and also to be able to get close to Him, to be able to understand Him, to be able to learn and to become more like Him.

Click here to listen to or download several podcasts totalling more than 100 minutes recording.

• Socrates famously and poignantly said in the Phaedo that philosophers really pursue nothing other than “dying and being dead.” Jeremy Taylor, sometimes called the “Shakespeare of Divines,” wrote the classic English treatise on the Christian theory and discipline of Ars Moriendi (“the art of dying”).

We shall find that the computations of a man’s life are busy as the tables of sines and tangents, and intricate as the accounts of eastern merchants; and therefore it were but reason we should sum up our accounts at the foot of every page, I mean that we call ourselves to scrutiny every night, when we compose ourselves to the little images of death.

• From the Florentine Platonist and priest Marsilio Ficino, we bring excerpts of his very original work Three Books on Life (De vita libri tres), conceived as a medical companion for scholars, full of salutary advice within the framework of the ancient Greek and Hermetic tradition.

If lovers of truth ought to care for the corporeal spirit with such great efforts lest it either prove a hindrance in their pursuit of truth, or else serve them inadequately, then no doubt they must try still harder to cultivate with the teachings of moral philosophy the incorporeal
spirit, the intellect by which alone truth, being itself incorporeal, is apprehended.

• We would finally like to bring to your attention a book launch taking place in Cambridge on the 30th October: Michael Sugich, an American writer who was initiated into a traditional Sufi order over forty years ago has authored a unique eye-witness narrative of a mystical tradition that today hides in plain sight, a book based on the realization that for so many people the idea of sainthood is remote, historical and almost mythical. “I wanted to show a contemporary audience that these people are among us and what the transaction between a seeker and a saint looks like in our time.” Please follow this link for more details.

The 33 Questions, the Stone, Beauty and Three Sufi Poems

October 2nd, 2013

Our latest library additions include the famous Yaksha Prashna, a passage from the Mahabharata forest exile section, where king Yudhishthira must go through a climactic interrogation in the direst circumstances:

“Who is truly happy? What is most wonderful?” Yudhishthira answered, “A man who cooketh in his own house, on the fifth or the sixth part of the day, with scanty vegetables, but who is not in debt and who stirreth not from home, is truly happy. Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama, yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more wonderful than this?”

• From the legendary Hasidic leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe), a brief lecture, “Reasoning the Stone”, with insights into the Jewish hermeneutics of the sacred words and letters of the Torah:

Not only is every law and testimonial essentially a supra-rational decree, but also their written surface, also our intellectual-emotional quest to comprehend and appreciate them, is to be undertaken in supra-rational obedience to the divine will.

• A set of two lectures on “Theology and Beauty” by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, of interest to students of art and aesthetics, as also to anyone interested in the place of beauty in the spiritual life.

There is something equivocal, ambiguous, dangerous in beauty and in love because when we see the stained glass window, we may be enthralled, made prisoners, captives of its beauty and forget that the very condition for this beauty is the light beyond.

• Finally, we bring three mystical poems by Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi, translated into English by Martin Lings, available both in PDF format and as MP3 files recorded for the Matheson Trust.

Full near I came unto where dwelleth
Layla, when I heard her call.
That voice, would I might ever hear it!
My star shines in her firmament.
Where is my life, and where my body,
Where my wilful soul? From her
The truth of these shone out to me,
Secrets that had been hidden from me.

On Women, Cosmogony and Sacred Doctrine, with Two Lectures

September 15th, 2013

• This week our selections include a lecture by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom “On the Creation of Women”, with many insights into the symbolism of marriage and the depths of love.

We are like a damaged icon; we are an image of God which has been badly damaged, but potentially can be brought back to perfection

A lecture by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “In the Beginning Was Consciousness”, with both original Harvard video and a transcript.

The environmental crisis has a religious, theological, spiritual basis, and is not just a result of bad engineering, as some people still think. It has a deeper root (…) it has everything to do with what we think of the world around us. What is this tree that I am looking at through the window? If it is just wood for my fireplace, or if the fox is just skin to put around my wife’s neck, or if this mountain is just the place from which to extract iron ore and make cars, that is a very different attitude than if I look upon these things as sharing my own reality, including consciousness.

An article with some “Reflections on the Relation Between Philosophy and Theology”, by Fr Gerald van Ackeren, S.J., elucidating the meaning of the expression Sacra Doctrina in the works of St Thomas Aquinas, with implications for the traditional notion of “metaphysics”, and the limits of “theology”.

Because sacred teaching is a science of the ultimate end, it is the only science which is at one and the same time speculative and practical. For not only all things to be known participate in this order of finality, but also all things to be done.

• We would like to bring to your attention two forthcoming lectures: one hosted by the Temenos Academy in London, Thursday 19th September, on the “Symbolism of the Plains Indian Sun Dance,” given by Chief James Trosper, from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. For more details, click here to see the lecture flyer.

• The second lecture, hosted by the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, Monday 28th October, will combine the screening of a new documentary on the Common Word interfaith initiative with a commentary and a round of questions and answers with Rowan Williams and Tim Winter (Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad). For more details, and to register, click here, or visit Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas website.

The Principle of Love, Radha and Krishna, Scholars vs Mystics and Sufi Wine

August 31st, 2013

Here are the latest additions to our online library:

• By Joseph L. Cumming, “The Principle of Love as the Key to Peacemaking in the Abrahamic Faiths and in the Teaching of Jesus”

The word “love” sounds nice, but what practical implications does it have in every day life? What would a “policy of love” look like?… In the teaching of Jesus, true love must be self-giving. That is, if we truly love another person, we will not only give them things, but we will be willing to give ourselves to them and for them.

A classical collection of Hindu Songs of Love between Radha and Krishna, by Vidyapati Thakur (c. 1352–1448), with an introduction by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy on the relation between erotic and mystical love poetry.

“The narration is not the real point”; His Lila in Brindaban is eternal, and Brindaban is the heart of man.
It is not till the ear ceases to hear the outside world, that it is open to the music in the heart, the flute of Krishna.

“Buddhist Scholars & Mystics”—from the pages of the Theravada canon (Anguttara Nikaya), a succinct vignette characterising “meditators” (jhana monks) and “those who devote themselves to the study of the sacred scriptures” (Dhamma-devotee monks), and showing why the world needs both.

• And finally two translations of classical Arabic Sufi poems by Martin Lings (Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din), recited in English for our Mystical Poetry Collection: the famous Khamriyya or Wine-Song by Umar Ibn al-Farid, and the also famous poem said to have been found at Al-Ghazali’s deathbed. Follow the links above to listen and to access the bilingual PDFs.

Sahaja, Sacrifice, the Garden and the Phoenix

August 16th, 2013

This week our new additions include an unusual article by Ananda Coomaraswamy where he expounds the Hindu concept of Sahaja, reaching deeply into the mystery of love, both in its metaphysical reality and in its earthly manifestations:

In reading of romantic love we are apt to ponder over what is left unsaid. What did the writers really mean? What was the actual physical relation of the Provençal lover to his mistress, of Chandidas to Rami? I have come to see now that even if we knew this to the last detail it would tell us nothing.

From the late French philosopher Jean Hani, a chapter tracking the notion of sacrifice in general, and the Eucharist in particular, through its historical sources and back to its first cause:

In order to understand in its ultimate profundity the meaning of this sacrifice, at one and the same time expiatory and transfiguring, and in a general manner, the real meaning and function of all sacrifice, it is necessary to know its metaphysical basis.

• In “A Contemplation of the Herbs”, a sermon by Thomas Adams (1583–1653), the “Shakespeare of the Puritans”, we have a very particular combination of a treatise on spiritual psychology and the symbolisms of gardening, because, among other things “A good life is a good salad.”

Labour we then to be fruitful gardens, and to abound with gracious herbs, that God may in this world shower upon us the dews of his mercy, and after this life transplant us to his heavenly paradise.

• Finally, Shakespeare’s enigmatic poem on the tragic love between the Phoenix and the Turtle-dove, “allegorically shadowing the truth of Love,” is read aloud for our collection of mystical poetry, and accompanied by several interpretative articles that illumine the profound meaning of “the bird of loudest lay”, the Phoenix of “the sole Arabian tree”. Click here to listen and read.

Intention, “Son of God”, al-Shadhili and Om and Amen

July 24th, 2013

• Our first new work for this week is an article by Elliot R. Wolfson, “Iconic Visualization and the Imaginal Body of God”, on the role of kawwanah or “intentionality” in prayer, affording precious glimpses into the Jewish life of prayer:

“Through the proper kawwanah the heart of the devotee becomes the throne upon which God dwells at the same time that God is transformed into the throne upon which the devotee dwells.”

• In a new contribution by Joseph Cumming, “The Meaning of the Expression ‘Son of God’” is examined, with reference to Greek and Arabic texts, clearing the linguistic sources of many misunderstandings, because, for example, “everyone knows the term ‘son of the road’ (ibn al-sabil),… does not mean literally that the road took a wife and sired a son by her!”

• Prof. Kenneth Honerkamp summarises the contents of a rare manuscript found in Fes, containing hitherto unknown materials on the life of Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, the founder of one of the most vital and widespread Sufi orders.

“Why do you ponder the state of the wali?… I would say, “It is greater than you imagine, the dust or even the least of his words on traditional views of divine unity (tawhid) would suffice you. The Law outwardly conceals him. If you ask him of subtleties of journeying (raqa’iq), he will efface them for you with subtleties of divine realities (daqa’iq).”

• Finally, in a new translation, Michel Valsan explains with many illustrations how the “two sacred terms Om and Amen coincide both in their adverbial meaning (of affirmation or confirmation) and the corresponding ritual use, and in the meaning of the symbol of the universal Word and the name of the supreme Truth.” Click here to read the PDF in A4 or e-book format.

Fasting, on Translation, the Problem of Evil and the Parliament of Religions

July 9th, 2013

• This week, the first new addition to our library is a talk by Abdal Hakim Murad (T. J. Winter), delivered on the 1st of Ramadan 2009, where he elaborates on the divine saying “fasting is mine.”

… but still, there is this illa siyam, “except for fasting”, fa innahu li, “for it is mine”, and we need to understand this; and we can understand it most easily not by using our brains… but by using our hearts. What does the heart feel in Ramadan?

Click here to listen.

• By Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, the lesser known article “On Translation: Maya, Deva, Tapas”, where three key terms in Hindu and religious studies in general are examined and exemplified.

“What Europe has understood by ‘religious tolerance’ is a merely negative conception, reached by way of scepticism and political convenience. The basic principle of tolerance is positive… ‘Because of his incomprehensible nobility and sublimity, which we cannot rightly name nor wholly express, we give Him all these names.’”

• From the many insightful articles authored by Marco Pallis, a foremost authority on Tibetan Buddhism, “Is There a Problem of Evil?”

“Did we but know it, all the desires beings experience, all their attempts to snatch satisfaction from this thing or that thing, are but signs of a deep-seated homesickness for the Tree of Life, man’s true homeland. The one and only ‘problem,’ in our situation, is to find the way home.”

• Finally, a fundamental text in the study of comparative religion: Swami Vivekananda’s famous addresses at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1893), widely recognised as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.

“The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.”

Mirror of Gesture, Ibn Gabirol, Imam Ali and Wabi-Sabi

June 20th, 2013

The Mirror of Gesture (Abhinaya Darpana) is a 2nd century CE classic of Indian dramatic art. Translated and introduced by A.K. Coomaraswamy, it is invaluable reference for all those interested in the performance arts or arts in general. This book includes many plates illustrating the different mudras, and the details of the twenty-four movements of the head and the forty-four glances. Click here to read.

“The arts are not for our instruction, but for our delight, and this delight is something more than pleasure, it is the godlike ecstasy of liberation from the restless activity of the mind and the senses, which are the veils of all reality, transparent only when we are at peace with ourselves. From the love of many things we are led to the experience of Union: and for this reason Tiruvenkatacari does not hesitate to compare the actor’s or dancer’s art with the practice of Yoga. The secret of all art is self-forgetfulness.”

• As a rare acoustic approach to medieval Andalusia, we also bring this week a selection of Jewish mystical poetry, including excerpts from the famous “Kingdom’s Crown” (Keter Malchut) by Ibn Gabirol, and a poem by Abraham Abulafia, all read in the original Hebrew and in English. Click here to listen.

• In a video-recorded lecture, “Imam Ali and the Power of Compassion”, Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi explores the role played by Rahma—loving compassion and mercy—in the teachings of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, stressing the relationship between intellect and compassion.

“Just as the operation of the intellect requires the participation of all the cardinal virtues—with compassion at their heart—the deeper meaning and transformative power of the virtue of compassion can only be unlocked by the spiritual and ethical application of the faculty of the intellect.”

• Finally, with thanks to Robyn Griggs Lawrence, we have an article on the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, or the Zen inspired mind-set that prepares us for “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty,” subtly pervading daily life with the spiritual values of naturalness and submission to the cycles of growth, decay, and death.

The Vedanta, the Chariot, a Qur’anic Response and Christian-Muslim Dialogue

May 28th, 2013

This week we bring four new additions to our online library. From Frithjof Schuon’s classic Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, an audio recording of two chapters on “The Vedanta”, affording precious insight into the heart of the Sanatana Dharma:

The sacred formula, the mantra, symbolizes and incarnates the Subject by objectivizing It; and by ‘covering’ the objective world, this dark cavern of ignorance, or rather by ‘substituting’ itself for it, the mantra leads the spirit lost in the labyrinth of objectivation back to the pure Subject.

By Elliot R. Wolfson, a world authority on the essence of the Jewish tradition, we present gratefully his article “Letter Symbolism and Merkavah Imagery in the Zohar”, dealing with some of the most central themes of sacred linguistics, the “cosmogonic mystery of the Name of God”.

“…man is said to be able to recreate the creative process by combining through prayer the various levels of reality… Language—and in particular liturgical language—is the medium by which one can again participate in the creative process of uniting cosmic forces, the act of ma’aseh merkavah.”

By highlighting and interpreting some key Qur’anic themes, Reza Shah-Kazemi offers an interiorizing response to the contemporary crises of fanaticism, fundamentalism and extremism that we are all facing. Click here to watch the video of this recent lecture given in Karachi in December 2012.

Finally, drawing from his experience at the front-lines of Christian-Muslim dialogue, Julian Bond offers his article “Religion, Prayer, Dialogue and Appreciating the Other”:

When extremists take over, when excessive (impersonal) religious demands are made which do not respect and value others, when there is no place for the ‘other’—and we are all ‘other’—there is an urgent need for us to speak well of each other, to be gracious and generous, to model good relations, to be loving people committed to dialogue and living the heart of our traditions.

Native audio recordings / Paths to the Same Summit

May 9th, 2013

After months of selection and editing, we can finally present the Native Religions section of our Sacred Audio collection. Needless to say, and while still a representative sample, this remains only an introduction to a vast field, somehow reflecting the fact that indigenous traditions worldwide mirror the pervasiveness of nature. Our selection includes authentic recordings from New Zealand, the Central Asian steppes, the Amazonia, the forests of Congo and other locations. Please click here to browse and listen.

From the pages of The Bugbear of Literacy, by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, we bring a seminal chapter on comparative religion: “Paths That Lead to the Same Summit”. First published in 1943, this brief article is still foundational reading for the discipline, giving many valuable insights and basic reference works.

It is mainly because religion has been offered to modern men in nauseatingly sentimental terms (“Be good, sweet child,” etc.), and no longer as an intellectual challenge, that so many have been revolted, thinking that that “is all there is to” religion.

Finally, we would like to remind our readers of our now impending London symposium: “A Search for the Time-less in Sacred Art and Architecture.” Full details of this unique event taking place on May 18 are available following this link.

On the symbolism of letters, on death, and on divine pedagogy

April 22nd, 2013

This week we have two particularly esoteric approaches to the powerful symbolism of the written word. In “The Symbolism of the Letters of the Alphabet”, Martin Lings partially translates and comments on a brief treatise, Al-Unmudhaj al-Farid, by the Algerian Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi, widely recognised in the Islamic world as a Sufi saint of first magnitude:

“Whenever I speak of the Point I mean the Secret of the Essence which is named the Oneness of Perception (Wahdat al-Shuhud), and whenever I speak of the Alif I mean the One Who Alone is (Wahid al-Wujud)”

Then from an early Christian perspective, we bring a fresh translation from the Coptic of an enigmatic and rather cosmological work entitled “The Mysteries of the Greek Alphabet”, attributed to Saint Sabas of Palestine (439–532):

“These letters are called ‘elements’, not because they are composed of elements… but, because of their form, the elements of the creation of the world are in them when they are written.”

From the Metropolitan Anthony Archive, we bring a lecture “On Death”:

“Only awareness of death will give life this immediacy and depth, will bring life to life, will make it so intense that its totality is summed up in the present moment… All life is at every moment an ultimate act.”

Finally, we welcome a new article by Damien Casey, where the Buddhist concept of upaya (a skilful means or stratagem) is looked at from the point of view of the early Fathers of the Church, as a means of Divine Pedagogy. In the light of St John’s Gospel, the article concludes that

“The Johannine vision of Truth as a person turns out not to be an obstacle for interfaith dialogue, but enables, empowers and perhaps even commands it.”

The “Word of God”, Acceptance, Forgiveness & a Chinese Mantra

April 8th, 2013

Our first new library addition is an enlightening article by Joseph L. Cumming, from Yale University, showing the range of meanings and implications of the expression “the Word of God” (Kalam Allah) in Semitic languages. This article, coupling compassion to rigorous discernment, is fundamental reading for anyone working on interfaith relations, especially between the Abrahamic faiths.

An original article by Patrick Laude, “Acceptance as a Door of Mercy”, explores the metaphysical reaches of the Islamic concept of rida, “acceptance” or “contentment”, considering its implications for the understanding of the plurality of religions:

Rida is the grace of the recognition that alterity is none other than identity, and the fulfilling satisfaction therein. Thus, metaphysically, rida is a coincidence of opposites, the height of tawhid; morally, it means humility and forgiveness…”

In his article “Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Justice”, Miroslav Volf carefully establishes the idea that “the cure against religiously induced or legitimized violence is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion,” and he argues thus with hope in “a reconstruction of politics” that draws on an transcendent notion of justice.

And finally, a new addition to our Sacred Audio Collection: the Zhunti Mantra (Cundi Dharani), one of the most popular Buddhist recitations throughout the Far East, dedicated to the “mother of the buddhas”, Zhunti Guanyin, “who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon her name.”

The Heart / Emir Abdelkader / Iroha Song

March 18th, 2013

Our new library additions include “The Heart”, one of the most important chapters from Martin Lings’ What is Sufism?, which we are pleased to offer both as a PDF file and as an original audio recording. You can access and download both clicking here.

In virtue of being the centre of the body, the heart may be said to transcend the rest of the body… While the body as a whole is “horizontal”… the heart has, in addition, a certain “verticality” for being the lower end of the “vertical” axis which passes from the Divinity Itself through the centres of all the degrees of the Universe.

From his Mawaqif, a series of mystical comments on Qur’anic verses by Amir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri (Emir Abdelkader), we bring a new English translation of the brief and condensed “Diversity of Divine Self-Disclosures.”

Ultimately, the worshiper does not seek, through the form which he worships, but the Reality which deserves to be worshiped and which is none other than God. For this is what God has decided and decreed from pre-eternity.

And finally a rare jewel from the Japanese tradition: the archaic Iroha song, in which the spirituality of Buddhism is refracted through the heart of the Japanese language in the Goju-on sillabary. We offer here an exquisite audio recording contributed by the Japanese Classical Literature Podcast.

Doubt & Questioning · Forgiveness · In the Shade of the Leaves

March 6th, 2013

This week we have a new video talk with Metropolitan Anthony Bloom on “Doubt & Questioning”, giving answers to the questions:

Can one claim to be a sincere and honest believer and question things? Can one claim to be a believer that is to believe in God and say: “I can’t understand You”?

A sermon by Father Alexander Schmemann on “Forgiveness”, explaining how

Lent is not a kind of painful medicine that helps only inasmuch as it is painful… [but] a gift from God to us, a gift which is admirable, marvelous, one that we desire.

And from Japan, a classic of the Way of the Samurai (Bushido), the famous Hagakure or In the Shade of the Leaves, containing much advice ranging from the way to raise children and social behaviour, to practical strategy advice, and many subtleties of the contemplative life:

This is the essence of the Way of the Samurai: you must die anew every morning and every night. If you continually preserve the state of death in everyday life, you will understand the essence of Bushido, and you will gain freedom in the Way.

May 2013 Symposium: A Search for the Time-Less in Sacred Art and Architecture

March 1st, 2013

A Search for the Time-Less in Sacred Art and Architecture:
The Case of an Architectural Practice in Lahore & an Arts and Crafts Institution in London

This symposium is to discuss the place of traditional art and architecture in the contemporary world together with its underlying language of geometry, and to examine the different challenges faced by the East (Pakistan) and the West (United Kingdom).


• Kamil Khan Mumtaz (Kamil Khan Mumtaz, Architects)
‘Continuing Tradition: Four Decades of Architectural Practice in Lahore, Pakistan’

• Taimoor Khan Mumtaz (Hast-o-Neest Institute)
‘In Search of the ‘Time-less’: Geometric Proportioning in Mughal Architecture’

• Paul Marchant (The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts)
‘Polishing the Mirror’—The Eternal Archetype reflected in Natural and Cosmic Order.
The Discipline of Geometry and the Continuous Renewal of the Traditional Arts and Crafts

Saturday May 18th, 2013

Royal Asiatic Society
14 Stephenson Way
London NW1 2HD
(nearest underground Euston / Euston Square)

Click here to view or download our full day programme.

Cost of day to include the three lectures, coffee/tea in the morning and afternoon: £15.00. Students and other concessions: £10.00. Payment can be made on the day of the event in cash or cheque, or through our donations page (click here), but places are limited so please book early.

For more details, and to register, please click here to contact us.

St Malachy, Metropolitan Anthony, Tolkien and the Dark Night

February 19th, 2013

St Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes (Prophetia de Summis Pontificibus) has been again in the news after Pope Benedict’s resignation. We bring you this week the original Latin text together with an illuminating interpretation by Martin Lings, who examines soberly the import of the prophecy for our times.

“St. Malachy was a man of so many undoubted miracles, and so many visions which had proved true in his lifetime, that by comparison the prophecy of the Popes was not worth mentioning… Who would have been interested to hear that there would be 112 more Popes between then and Doomsday? It would have seemed incredible to almost everyone that the second coming of Christ could be so far off.”

From the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Archive, we bring the first of hopefully many other texts by this reverend master of Orthodox spirituality: “Mysticism”.

“…the certainty of things unseen. What is no longer the object of contemplation; what is no longer love possessed, but the certainty that it exists, that it is there, that it can come back, but that it is willingly, freely discarded in an act of love which is more important than the possession of the experience. This is, I believe, the touchstone of a true mystical experience.”

Shedding light on the Christian theology underlying J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction, including “The Lord of the Rings”, Damien Casey brings us his article “The Gift of Iluvatar”.

“If the world is fallen, it is also graced. The relationship between human frailty and grace is clearly encapsulated in the climax of The Lord of the Rings. It is crucial to the theological logic of the story that Frodo ultimately fails in his quest. The quest succeeds, ultimately, because it is taken out of his hands. Success, and ultimately redemption, is not the result of strength but of forgiveness.”

Finally, we start a new series of readings of mystical poetry with St John of the Cross and his “Dark Night of the Soul”, read in English and Spanish. Click here to listen or download.

Concerning Prayer, Peace, Certainty and Silence

January 23rd, 2013

This week we have four new additions to our library: a chapter from The Book of Certainty, by Martin Lings, plumbing the depths of Qur’anic and Sufi doctrine with an elucidation of “The Truth of Certainty” (haqq al-yaqin).

“…this nothingness and poverty is the key by which alone one may have access to the Infinite Riches of the Truth; and yet since the being is utterly extinguished in the Truth he cannot be said to have gained possession of Its Riches, for in Reality He has never ceased to possess Them.”

By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a new audio lecture, “For the Peace from Above”, explaining how peace, that “state of inner peace, of wholeness, of single pointed concentration is the essential context in which all our prayer is expressed.” You can listen online or download the MP3 file for free.

We welcome a new author with an article by Kerrie Hide: “Silence Enflamed: John of the Cross and Prayer”, giving us a genuine insight into the essence of St John of the Cross’s mystical poetry:

“Night is the womb of solitude where Beloved and lover are transformed into each other. ‘Night’ infuses us in eternal wisdom and sustains us as we take the way of the darker nights of contemplation.”

Finally, with thanks to our friends at the Prometheus Trust, we bring a rare selection of Platonist selections “Concerning Prayer”, including original texts from Proclus, Iamblichus and Hierocles. This is a first hand account of the religious life of the Greek philosophers, allowing us to appreciate the pious depths of ancient theurgy:

“To a perfect and true prayer there is required in the first place, a knowledge of all the divine orders to which he who prays approaches…But in the second place, there is required a conformation of our life with that which is divine; and this accompanied with all purity, chastity, discipline, and order.”

The Icon, the Labyrinth, the Cross and the Song of Enlightenment

December 27th, 2012

This month we bring by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware a new lecture titled “The Holy Icon – Doorway into Heaven”:

The art of the icon is not only a liturgical art and not only a theological art: it is also sacramental… the icon performs a mediating function: it makes present.

By Sarah Jane Boss, a rich article exploring the many Christian resonances of the symbolism of the labyrinth, especially in its Marian associations: “The Cosmic Womb: Labyrinths and Rebirth in Christian Symbolism”.

On a new instalment of our Hear! audio recordings project, we have the chapter “Of the Cross” from Frithjof Schuon’s Gnosis–Divine Wisdom:

“The cross is the divine fissure through which Mercy flows from the Infinite. The centre of the cross, where the two dimensions intersect, is the mystery of foresakenness: it is the spiritual moment’ when the soul loses itself, when it ‘is no more’ and when it ‘is not yet’.”

And finally, an 8th century classic from the Zen Buddhist tradition which is still very much in use today, The Song of Enlightenment, by Yongjia Xuanjue.

“From a very early age I took to accumulating knowledge, always brashly inserting myself into discussions on the Scriptures and commentaries, unrelenting in making distinctions over terms and their meanings… and then, for many years, just as vainly played the role of wanderer upon the winds, guest of the dusty road…”

How to Enter the Heart, the Hindu Sacraments and the Oneness of Being

November 22nd, 2012

From the late Islamic scholar and Sufi master, Dr Martin Lings, we publish this week an article long considered to be “an unsurpassed distillation” of the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud. “Oneness of Being” is published as a chapter of the now classic A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, and its brief and dense pages demonstrate powerfully how by plumbing the depths of a given tradition, in this case Islam, an opening is reached where the “transcendent unity of religions” is no longer an abstraction but a compelling and demanding realisation.

From Fr Sebastian Painadath, head of the Sameeksha Ashram in Kalady, South India:
“Hindu Rites of Passage and the Christian Sacraments,” an overview of the four basic samskaras or Hindu rites of passage, and a Christian theological reflection in the hope that “understanding the Hindu samskaras may inspire us to make our sacramental practice more experiential and relevant to life.”

Finally, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in a talk delivered for the Paths to the Heart conference in 2001, explains “How do we enter the heart” and for what purpose.

“…they did not think of the heart as a pump. They thought of the heart as full of space and air. Makarius speaks of ‘grace possessing the pasturages of the heart.’ So, when you enter into the heart it’s like going up to Edmonton and looking at the vast prairies stretching out round you.”

You can listen to it or download the MP3 audio recording following this link.

Prayer, Poetry, the True Eye beyond Words

October 23rd, 2012

This week, with a lively and enlightening audio lecture entitled “What is Prayer?”, we introduce a series of lectures by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.

“…it is not necessary always to be asking for things, it is not necessary always to be using words: the deepest prayer is simply to wait on God.”

Some reflections by Fr. Graeme Watson on the poetry of the metaphysical poets and George Herbert (1593-1633) in particular: “Poetry and Prayer Beyond Words”.

“…we are drawn by the poet into that apophatic ‘space’ that takes us beyond all images, concepts and human formulations… towards nothing less than the beatific vision of God.”

By the late Zen Master Jiyu Kennet, the second volume of The Roar of the Tigress, “Zen for Spiritual Adults”, a collection of lectures inspired by the Shobogenzo of Eihei Dogen.

“…while these lectures were given to listeners who were within the Zen Buddhist tradition, the heart-to-heart message which they provide should be accessible to any person of faith…”

Finally, with thanks to Shasta Abbey, we offer a full translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo itself, dense with challenging insights and powerful intimations.

“An enlightened one of long ago once said in a poem, ‘The blue lotus blooms amidst the fire.’ Thus it is that the blue lotus invariably blossoms forth in the midst of the fire. If you wish to know where ‘being in the midst of the fire’ is, it is the very place where the blue lotus blossoms forth. Do not neglect investigating ‘being in the midst of the fire’…”

A spiritual vademecum, a board game and others

September 24th, 2012

After some weeks of work behind the scenes, we are glad to announce the latest additions to our library:

By the Sufi master Ibn Ata Allah from Alexandria, third in the line of the Tariqa Shadhiliyya, we have added to our library an English translation of his Kitab al-Hikam, or Book of Aphorisms. Victor Danner, praised for his translation of this little classic, writes, “The Hikam exists in another dimension. It is a thing in itself and works deeply on one, especially when repeatedly read over many years. It contains timeless and profound wisdoms for seekers of spiritual success and illumination based on the teachings of the Quran and Sunna.”

In a remarkable article entitled “The Way of Go”, Desmond Meraz shares his research and insights into the ancient game of Go (or Weiqi, in China), elaborating on the metaphysical, cosmological and psychological aspects of the game:

…mastery of Go is not limited to the acquisition of technical skill and strategic prowess predicated upon the memorization of common patterns. It also depends upon the ability to overcome deficiencies and weaknesses in the soul…

From the monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian (Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi), in one of the fruits of his decade-long peregrination into the common ground uniting Christians and Muslims, Father Paolo Dalloglio shares his profound reflections on the prayer of the heart in a truly original article: “The Prayer of an Islamic-Christian Heart”.

Finally, we republish with gratitude a penetrating article by Ali Lakhani: “What Thirst is For”, from the archives of the Sacred Web journal, dealing with the traditional view and significance of human desires, obscured as they are by a hedonistic modernity:

Modern man has an insatiable thirst for the gifts of God, but is blind to His Presence.

Volf: Allah, a Christian Response / More from the Hear! project

July 6th, 2012

Following the publication of his book Allah: A Christian Response, Miroslav Volf, from Yale University, explains how some typical misconceptions of the Trinity hinder the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, while a better understanding of the doctrine reveals fundamental agreement. The talk, given at Wheaton College, can be listened to or downloaded here with an interesting round of questions and answers.

On another front, continuing with our Hear! project recordings, Reza Shah-Kazemi reads for our Library “The Prophet”, a seminal chapter from Understanding Islam by Frithjof Schuon.

“Love of the Prophet constitutes a fundamental element in Islamic spirituality… It arises because Muslims see in the Prophet the prototype and model of the virtues which constitute the theomorphism of man and the beauty and equilibrium of the Universe, and which are so many keys or paths towards liberating Unity – this is why they love him and imitate him even in the very smallest details of daily life. The Prophet, like Islam as a whole, is as it were a heavenly mould ready to receive the influx of the intelligence and will of the believer and one wherein even effort becomes a kind of supernatural repose.”

The Universality of the Qur’an / KJV Theology / Shin Buddhism

June 23rd, 2012

This week we have three new additions to our library: a talk by Martin Lings on The Universality of the Qur’an, recorded by the Temenos Academy in London, October 2003, followed by an interesting round of questions and answers:

When did God ever send a religion which was not a religion of truth? Did He ever send a religion of falsehood? … The Qur’an by its universality proclaims that God has not neglected any section of the world from the point of view of religion, that each part of the world has been given a religion that suited it best.

In our Christianity section, we have an interesting lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams on the theological issues raised by the translation of scriptures in general, and the King James Version of the Bible in particular. How can theology make sense of the apparent discord between traditions which in their reverent attachment to one sacred language do away with translations, and those which have depended on translations, at times even “inspired” translations, to exist from early times? Dr Williams’ insightful reflections shed some light on this difficult issue. Follow this link to read more.

Finally, thanks to World Wisdom books, we are offering access to two excerpts from a classic on Shin (or “Pure Land”) Buddhism: Naturalness, by Japanese author Kenryo Kanamatsu. This little gem has long been recognised as a beautiful and penetrating introduction to the teachings, practice and spiritual “climate” of the Pure Land:

…shut up within the narrow walls of our limited self, we lose our simplicity and turn a deaf ear to the call welling up from the inmost depths of our heart. We are not quite conscious of our inherent long­ing, for it is hidden under so many layers of pride and self-deception. Just as we are not ordinarily conscious of the air, so we are apt to overlook the claims of the heart demanding our foremost attention.

The Winter’s Tale & an Isma‘ili Muslim view of the Crucifixion

June 1st, 2012

Continuing with our series of Martin Lings Temenos recordings, this week we have added to our library The Winter’s Tale, a play considered by Dr Lings to be the closest of all Shakespeare’s to Dante’s Divine Comedy, dealing symbolically with the rediscovery and then purification and reintegration of the human soul. Please follow this link to listen or download.

In our Islam section we welcome an article by Khalil Andani on the Isma’ili Muslim view of the Crucifixion and death of Christ, with a very interesting collection of traditional sources on this subject, like the following:

Jesus, on whom be peace, informed his community that the Lord of Resurrection, of whom he was the harbinger, will unveil the realities hidden in the forms of the religious laws, the people will know them and be unable to deny them. This would be like a whole population seeing someone crucified.
(Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, 10th cent.)

Please click here to access the article.

“Death, Resurrection & Human Destiny: Christian and Muslim Perspectives” / Testimonials

May 19th, 2012

This week we are grateful to have seven new audio talks belonging to the public day of lectures of the 11th Building Bridges Seminar, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury at King’s College London, on 23 April 2012. With the title “Death, Resurrection & Human Destiny: Christian and Muslim Perspectives”, the conference comprises six lectures followed by Dr Williams’ concluding reflections, all dealing with theological, ritual, mystical and devotional views on “the last things”. Speakers include Tom Wright, Mona Siddiqui, Geoffrey Rowell, Asma Afsaruddin, Sajjad Rizvi and Harriet Harris. You can download the MP3 files or listen to them by following this link.

Videos of the conference will soon be available from this official page at Georgetown University.

We have started collecting in a single page several appraisals of our work coming from religious and scholarly authorities as well as from occasional researchers and visitors. This new Testimonials page is a good way to understand and appreciate our work from different perspectives. You can visit following this link.

King Lear / Zen Autobiography

April 24th, 2012

This week we have a new Martin Lings lecture: King Lear, recorded in London in 1994 by The Temenos Academy. Dr Lings explains how with King Lear “we are kept conscious throughout of the presence of the allegory, that is, of the play as an image of the history of mankind.”

We also have this week an addition to our Far Eastern and Buddhist collections: the autobiography of Yamada Mumon Roshi, an influential 20th century master of the Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition. This short and valuable document gives, in addition to spiritual instruction, a remarkable insight into the spiritual effervescence of urban Japan by the beginning of the 20th century.

Sacred Audio Collection

April 16th, 2012

We are pleased to offer to the public, as an unparalleled resource, a carefully curated section of our audio library: the Matheson Trust Sacred Audio Collection, bringing together a “unique selection of live recordings from the world’s major religious traditions: prayers, hymns and scriptural recitations performed in all corners of the world for thousands of years, mostly in their original ancient languages.”

We hope you will enjoy browsing our careful selection of Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Shinto, Jewish, Christian and Islamic MP3 recordings from temples, monasteries and oratories all over the world. Feel free to download the collection, which is worth attentive and, as it were, “active” listening.

Look out for occasional updates to this collection, as we add to the initial selection and expand into other traditions and other branches and denominations within the major religions.

We shall be grateful for donations, suggestions, comments and contributions that help us improve this and other areas of our online library. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch through our contact page.

Macbeth / The Metaphysics of Relativity

April 10th, 2012

This week we have a new Temenos lecture by Martin Lings: “Macbeth”, which, Dr Lings explains: “unfolds before us the whole panorama of human history, from the primordial age represented by the reign of Duncan to the millenium represented by the reign of Malcolm.”

In addition to this we have a new article by Patrick Laude: “Shimmering Reality: The Metaphysics of Relativity in Mystical Traditions,” where the author, using as a starting point the foundational texts of Advaita Vedanta, elaborates on “the mystery of universal metaphysical relativity, or universal existence,” trying to ascertain what is the latter’s ontological status according to wisdom and mystical traditions, across religious boundaries. We are grateful to the author and to Philosophy East and West for permission to publish this article.

Hear! Project / Cymbeline

April 1st, 2012

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Hear! project, which aims to make available for the first time audio recordings of some foundational texts in comparative studies, including works by Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings and others. Our first recording, read by Emma Clark especially for our website, is “The Symbolist Mind”, an important chapter from The Feathered Sun by Schuon.

“It is not a question of projecting a supersaturated and disillusioned individualism into a desecrated Nature but, on the contrary, of rediscovering in Nature, on the basis of the traditional outlook, the divine substance which is inherent in it; in other words, to “see God everywhere,” and to see nothing apart from His mysterious presence.”

We also bring this week a new Shakespeare lecture by Martin Lings: Cymbeline, of which Dr Lings has the following to say:

“That happiness of the recovery of something thought irretrievably lost, is probably more intense in Cymbeline… it is in Cymbeline that Shakespeare expresses more than in any other play something of the truth that, as was said by Christ to St. Julian of Norwich: ‘All shall be well; all manner of thing shall be well’, referring to the Reality that will prevail ultimately.”

In addition to these, we have a new article by Reza Shah-Kazemi on our Islam section: “The Prophetic Paradigm,” from the book The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam (London: IB Tauris/IIS, 2012):

“The quality of hilm entails avoiding conflict, and seeking instead peace, reconciliation and justice. It calls for wisdom, an objective view of what is required in each situation, an ability to be detached from self-interest, as well from one’s own anger, sentiment or desire. It… enables one to resist the pressures of tribalism, nationalism, or any other prejudice which might distort one’s perception of justice and propriety… A correct understanding of hilm takes us to the very heart of Islamic virtue, and one cannot fully appreciate the roots of tolerance in Islam without understanding the meaning, the influence, and the radiance of this key prophetic virtue.”

Measure for Measure and a lecture undelivered

March 9th, 2012

We have two new talks on our audio library this week: in The Sound of a Lecture Undelivered: Jesus and the World’s Religions, Prof. James Cutsinger, from the University of South Carolina, makes use of an ingenious rhetorical device to elucidate a penetrating Christian view of the plurality of religions. A PDF version of this talk is already available from our website following this link.

In our second talk, following with our Martin Lings Shakespeare lectures series, we have Measure for Measure, of which Dr Lings has this to say: “In no play does Shakespeare represent more clearly than in Measure for Measure the dangers of the spiritual path. At the outset of the path the perverted psychic elements are more or less dormant and remote from the centre of consciousness. They must first of all be woken and then redeemed, for they cannot be purified in their sleep; and it is when they wake in a state of raging perversion that there is always the risk that they will overpower the whole soul…”

Two New Talks: “Othello” and “Seeing God Everywhere”

March 2nd, 2012

This week we continue to expand our Martin Lings Shakespeare lectures collection with the addition of Othello, a lecture organised in London in the late 1990’s by The Temenos Academy. Referring to this play, Dr Lings explains that “Shakespeare achieves here an overwhelming impact of a kind which drama alone, of all the arts, makes posible… [the] instantaneous and dazzlingly clear proof that white is white and black is black, comes as a fiat lux, an irresistible Divine command: ‘Let there be light!’. The blind eye is filled with light and takes its rightful place at the summit of the soul.”

“Seeing God Everywhere: Traversing the Spiritual Path”: Thanks to our friends at the  Australian Centre for Sufism and Irfanic Studies we have a brand new video in which Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi elaborates on the expression “Seeing God Everywhere”, explaining what is the deepest way of understanding this from within the Qur’anic, hence Islamic and Sufi perspective.

World Interfaith Harmony Week 2012 Gathering

February 20th, 2012

Last Tuesday 7 February The Matheson Trust and The Woolf Institute celebrated together the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week 2012. On the grounds of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, representatives of five major religious traditions joined us to share with the audience live performances of some of their most significant prayers and sacred songs.

gathering 2012 collage

After a brief welcome and introduction by Josef Meri and Juan Acevedo, the different presenters gave voice to the Vedas, the Buddhist scriptures, the Torah, Christian hymns and the Qur’an for a truly exceptional and inspiring afternoon.

This is an excerpt from the opening words:

“The pitfalls of expression are always lurking in interfaith exchanges, and those engaged feel as if treading on thin ice lest they are misinterpreted and then misquoted and misjudged… how could it be otherwise, if what is involved is trying to express what is beyond words and even beyond language?

“…music easily presents itself as a sufficient vehicle, or in any case as a subtler vehicle… reaching inwards, or upwards, or at least, through its rhythm, closer in language to our beating hearts, and even closer when use is made of the human voice as an instrument. True and timeless bridges between the corporeal and the subtle realms, we don’t seem to be able to determine exactly where is it that our intonations and invocations spring from, and how far they reach in their subtle repercussions.”

Please follow this link to our Library for full details and to listen to the audio recordings.

Cambridge Interfaith Gathering of Voices

February 1st, 2012

In an effort to promote the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week initiative, we have teamed up with the Woolf Institute for a unique event to be held next week, on Tuesday 7 February, in the grounds of St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge.

Representatives of five major religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, will be performing for each other and the general public some of the most important recitations and chants of their respective traditions. With a brief introduction giving the context and particular importance of each piece, we will listen to traditional recitations of the Vedas, Buddhist sutras, Jewish Torah recitation and chants, Christian chants and Islamic Qur’an recitation and Sufi chants.

For more information, please follow this link to our announcement, or click here to see the Woolf Institute announcement.

Keats and Shakespeare

January 27th, 2012

As we continue to add to our library the lectures given by Martin Lings at the Temenos Academy, we have uploaded the following two this week:

Keats & Shakespeare: the brief life of Keats and his works are considered in detail and on their deepest dimensions, having as a constant reference Shakespeare’s plays and poems, and drawing on Dr Lings’ own experience as a musician and poet.

Hamlet: this is the first of a series of lectures dedicated to the major plays of Shakespeare. Here Martin Lings draws not only on his studies of symbolism and his spiritual knowledge, but also on his stage experience. During the 1940s, for more than a decade, his work at the Cairo University gave him the opportunity to produce Shakespeare plays every year. This experience culminated years later in the publication of his The Secret of Shakespeare (click here for US distributor).

Martin Lings Talks

January 20th, 2012

We are glad to bring to our audio library a collection of talks by Martin Lings. Most of them were recorded in London at The Temenos Academy, and are republished here with their kind permission. Delivered over the last two decades, these talks cover a wide range of themes, from Sufism and comparative mysticism to detailed analysis of Shakespeare’s plays and their symbolism.

The first title, “Aspects of Sufism”, is an introduction to Sufism for a Western audience, giving glimpses of the crystalline facets of this inner side of Islam.

“Human Origins and Destinies According to the Great Religions of the World” is a penetrating overview of what could be called a spiritual anthropology, including also an eschatology, with a special view to the doctrinal points of contact among the different religions.

And these are the remaining talks:

Frithjof Schuon and René Guénon

Keats and Shakespeare

Metaphysics and The Perennial Philosophy

The Qur’anic Doctrine of the Afterlife

The Universality of the Qur’an

And finally the Shakespeare lectures: Cymbeline, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Othello, The Winter’s Tale.

New Website / New Author: John Bussanich

January 17th, 2012

We are very happy to announce the launch of our new website design which, apart from obvious visual improvements, introduces a more dynamic structure better suited to our library of different media.

It is hoped that by introducing these aesthetic and structural improvements we are bringing the appearance of the website a little closer to its content, aspiring to conform to Plato’s dictum that “Beauty is the splendour of the True”.

Please take a look at the new design by clicking on this link. The library is now interconnected in a more organic way and this should make it easier to access related topics and authors. Our search tool continues to work as before with a few improvements to speed things up. We look forward to receiving your comments and any questions through our Contact page.

We would also like to welcome our latest Library addition, a remarkable article entitled “Socrates the Mystic”, giving a rare insight into the centuries-old discussion about the nature of Socrates’ daimon and trance-like experiences. Many thanks to Prof. John Bussanich, from the University of New Mexico, for his contribution.

Apologies to our subscribers for the recent re-duplication of a November news issue. Please ignore it as an unexpected outcome of our website overhaul.

Christ Through Jewish Eyes / The Syrian Diaspora

December 5th, 2011

Our Judaism section welcomes a new article by Rabbi Mark L. Solomon. In a candid attempt to formulate a Jewish theological understanding of the significance of Jesus Christ for Christians, the author traces the illuminating parallelisms between some of the roles played by the Torah and Jesus Christ in their respective traditions.

Additionally, in our Audio Library you will find a new talk by Sebastian Brock on the Syrian Orthodox Church and its Diaspora, considering its modern history and contemporary challenges. With thanks to Heythrop College, University of London, for permission to record and publish this talk.

New Monograph: Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism

November 21st, 2011

We are pleased to announce the publication of our most recent title by the late Lithuanian scholar Algis Uždavinys: Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism. Orpheus is both a mythical hero and an important figure in the development of Greek religion and philosophy. Uždavinys provides us in this book with a dense survey of ancient and contemporary sources on Orpheus and Orphic lore and scholarship. As usual, this Matheson Monograph is available from both high street and internet book sellers, and a sizeable PDF excerpt is available through our Publications page. This book presents fascinating insights into the usually downplaid relations between Egyptian initiation, Greek mysteries and Plato’s philosophy and followers, right into Hellenistic Neoplatonic and Hermetic developments.

New Monograph: Sacred Royalty / BESHT on Prayer

November 10th, 2011

Our Matheson Monographs series is honoured to include now Sacred Royalty: From The Pharaoh to The Most Christian King, one of the few previously untranslated works by Jean Hani, the well known French classicist and metaphysician. This work is a vast and profound account of monarchies worldwide, explaining their exalted intrinsic character and shedding a new light on many related historical events and practices, thus allowing us to see modern history, sociology and politics in a truly cosmic context.

As our other publications, this book should now be available from major retail and wholesalers, but do contact us if you have any problem getting hold of it.

Additionally, we have a new book excerpt in our Judaism section. Thanks to the generosity of our friends at Fons Vitae, we have made available a chapter on “Prayer, Preaching and Reproof” by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the famous Baal Shem Tov, affording unusual access to the deepest contemplative aspects of Jewish life in prayer.

Theravada Buddhism, Christianity and Atheism

October 24th, 2011

Last week our Buddhism section welcomed the addition of two contributions from the Thai Theravada tradition: a collection of aphorisms by Venerable Ajahn Chah (1918-1992), and the Autobiography of a Forest Monk by Venerable Ajahn Thate, with thanks to Dhamma Talks and Amaravati Monastery.

In our Christianity section we gratefully acknowledge a new contribution on The Inner Dimension of Pilgrimage to Mount Athos by Dr Marco Toti.

Finally, in our Comparative Religion page, we have two new articles by Dr Rowan Williams, one on atheism and another one on Christian theology in its relations to other faiths. As usual, our gratitude goes to the
Archbishop’s Press office.

Prayer of the Heart, Love, Jihad and Tolerance

October 14th, 2011

With a major redesign of our website under way, we continue to build our online library. Over the last few weeks we have added two new audio lectures and some articles.

In our Audio section we have first, a double talk by Sebastian Brock and Ahmad Achtar on the Prayer of the Heart, as viewed from the Syriac Christian and Islamic perspectives, and second, a recent lecture by Reza Shah-Kazemi on Tawhid and Love in Islam, as part of a recent conference at Heythrop College.

Our Islam section can now count with an article by Imam Zaid Shakir (Zaytuna College), Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare”, and also with a new article By Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: “Generous Tolerance in Islam and its Effects on the Life of a Muslim”. These two articles, firmly grounded as they are in the traditional exegetic methods of Islamic sciences, could safely be considered required reading for any serious treatment of the concepts of jihad and Islamic tolerance in English scholarly literature. Our thanks to the authors, and Zaytuna College for making this possible.

New Audio and Articles on Islam / Building Bridges 2011

September 23rd, 2011

With thanks to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and the friends at Sandala, we have two new articles in our Islam page: “Climbing Mount Purgatorio” and “Foundations of the Spiritual Path”, a translation from Qawa’id al-Tasawwuf by Sidi Ahmad Zarruq (1442–1493), one of the masters of the Shadhili lineage.

In our audio library we have an insightful new talk by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter) on “The Presence of the Qur’an”, shedding light on the phenomenon of Islamic civilisation by conveying the believers’ experience of the presence of their sacred book, with its ability to reach into the mysterious depths of the soul.

Finally, thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury and The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, we have in our Video page new direct links to the lectures recorded this year in Qatar at the Building Bridges Seminar. The speakers include Michael Plekon, Reza Shah-Kazemi, Philip Sheldrake, Dheen Mohamed, Caner Dagli and Daniel Madigan.

Adyan Articles / Nasr Lectures

August 26th, 2011

This week we have completed uploading our S.H. Nasr audio lectures, with renewed thanks to The Foundation for Traditional Studies. The last two lectures are: “The Prophet of Islam, the Chain of Prophecy, and the Relationship between Religions Today” (2010) and “Islam and Ecology” (2011).

We are happy to include for the first time five new articles from our friends at the journal Religions (Adyan), based in Qatar. These articles include a “Conversation on Love with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz” and “The Oneness of God’s Community” by Archbishop George Khodr, as also original articles by David Burrell, Ibrahim Kalin and Reza Shah-Kazemi. All these articles are freely available as PDF documents.

New Monograph: Ascent to Heaven / Chief Rabbi Lectures

August 19th, 2011

We are pleased to announce the publication of the latest title in our Matheson Monographs: Ascent to Heaven in Islamic and Jewish Mysticism, by the late Lithuanian scholar Algis Uždavinys. A downloadable excerpt and more details are available as usual from our Publications page.Ascent cover

Thanks to the kindness of the Chief Rabbi office, we have recently uploaded our first two lectures by Dr Jonathan Sacks, one dealing with the relation between religion and science in our times, and another with the religious roots of tolerance. As usual with Dr Sacks, his lectures deliver their rich message through a gripping combination of humour and grace with an erudite, philosophic and deeply pious discourse. These lectures, and hopefully more to come, can be accessed through our Audio Library.

Finally, this week we have two new recordings with Seyyed Hossein Nasr: a dialogue on “Religion, Modernity and the Future” with Harvey Cox, and a “Confucian-Islamic Dialogue” with Tu Weiming. Free to listen to or download from our Audio Library.

Growing in Prayer / Beijing Forum

August 12th, 2011

With thanks to the Archbishop’s Press office, we have a new audio lecture by Rowan Williams: Growing in Prayer: what the saints tell us about the spiritual journey. Dr Williams delivered this series through Holy Week (2009) in three parts: “The Early Church”, “Reformers, Catholic & Protestant”, and “The Quest for God in the Modern Age”. This lecture aims to address the question: “There must be a bit more to it than just asking God for things. What is that something more?”

Additionally, we continue to enrich our collection of S.H. Nasr lectures with the following three recordings: “Dialog between Islam and Confucianism” (with Tu Weiming), “Forgiveness and Mercy, Judgment and Justice”, and “Harmony of Heaven, Earth and Man: Harmony of Civilizations”.

New S. H. Nasr Lectures

August 5th, 2011

Throughout this month we will be uploading ten new lectures by Seyyed Hossein Nasr to our Audio Library, with much gratitude to our friends at the Foundation for Traditional Studies and the journal Sophia for making this possible. The first three lectures are now online: “Reading the Cosmic Qur’an” (2008), “The State of Religious Dialogue: 40 years after Nostra Aetate (2008), and “Theoria and Praxis” (2009).

In addition to this, we have just posted a recent lecture by Reza Shah-Kazemi on “The Prophet of Islam and the Spirit of Tolerance”, also available to download or listen online.

New Monograph: Sacred Royalty / BESHT on Prayer

July 13th, 2011

Our Matheson Monographs series is honoured to include now Sacred Royalty: From The Pharaoh to The Most Christian King, one of the few previously untranslated works by Jean Hani, the well known French classicist and metaphysician. This work is a vast and profound account of monarchies worldwide, explaining their exalted intrinsic character and shedding a new light on many related historical events and practices, thus allowing us to see modern history, sociology and politics in a truly cosmic context.

As our other publications, this book should now be available from major retail and wholesalers, but do contact us if you have any problem getting hold of it.

Additionally, we have a new book excerpt in our Judaism section. Thanks to the generosity of our friends at Fons Vitae, we have made available a chapter on “Prayer, Preaching and Reproof” by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the famous Baal Shem Tov, affording unusual access to the deepest contemplative aspects of Jewish life in prayer.

New Issue of Sacred Web

July 6th, 2011

Our friends at Sacred Web have just released a new issue, packed with interesting articles. Here is their announcement:

Volume 27 of Sacred Web is now available through Please follow this link for abstracts, links to download free contents and more information.

This volume contains the following articles:

On Freedom and Necessity
by M. Ali Lakhani

A Qur’anic Response to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’
by Reza Shah-Kazemi

Majma’ an-Nurayn: Fatimah in the Esoteric Shi’ite Tradition
by ‘Abd al-Hakeem Carney

The Metaphysics of the Common Word:
A Dialogue of Eckhartian and Isma’ili Gnosis
Part Two: Intellectual and Emanative Reality
by Khalil Andani

Were René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon Biased against Love?
by Charles Upton

On Traditionalism, Vedanta and Hinduism
by Renaud Fabbri

Barzakh, the Opened Field
by Tom Cheetham

Special Section on Poetry: A Selection of Poems
by Charles Upton, Barry McDonald, Iain T. Benson, and M. Ali Lakhani

In Memoriam: Algis Uždavinys (1962-2010) and his Antipodean Sojourn
by Harry Oldmeadow

Book Reviews

Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World
By HRH The Prince of Wales, with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly
Reviewed by M. Ali Lakhani

Allah: A Christian Response
By Miroslav Volf
Reviewed by M. Ali Lakhani

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology
By Yannis Toussulis,
Foreword by Robert Abdul Hayy Darr
Reviewed by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos

Letters to the Editor

Confessions of a Lutheran Perennialist
by Larry Rinehart

A Question on Schuon
by Charles Upton

Sacred Web is a journal that presents traditional wisdom from all faith traditions and explores the relevance of this wisdom to issues of the modern world. You may click here to go directly to this issue’s page.

Two New Lectures

June 30th, 2011

We are grateful to have in our audio library one new lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams: “The Finality of Jesus Christ,” elucidating the doctrine of the finality and uniqueness of Christ in a way that shows its potential of divine compassion and understanding within our contemporary interfaith societies.

We are also happy to announce the addition to our audio library of one of the first events sponsored by the trust: the third Martin Lings centenary lecture, delivered by Reza Shah-Kazemi in London in November 2009. “Martin Lings: The Sanctity of Sincerity” is at once a moving testimony and an objective explication of the discreet yet powerful impact of Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din, of his unpublished spiritual guidance and of his published works.

Impossible Pluralism

June 28th, 2011

In a very illuminating article by Gavin D’Costa, the notion of “religious pluralism” is probed and found to be misguided, pointing instead, and rigorously, towards the need for a really transcendental understanding at the basis of interfaith approaches.

In our Audio library we have a new lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams, an examination of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity based on the insights of St John of the Cross.

And finally, in our Judaism section, the prominent Jewish scholar Edward Kessler, from the Woolf Institute, shares with us a recent and candid article on the need to carefully reappraise the virtues of Abraham if we are to have real positive engagement between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Martin Lings Poems

June 20th, 2011

With the addition of ten new poems in MP3 format, we have now made available from our audio page all currently extant recordings of Martin Lings reading his own poems. This collection includes all but one of those published in his Collected Poems (available from Archetype). All the poems are free to listen to online or download.

On the Philokalia and the Vision of God

June 13th, 2011

Our Audio Library has been recently enriched with the addition of a lecture by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, on “The Image of Humanity in the Philokalia”, delivered at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in 2010. We plan to be adding other selected talks and sermons by the Archbishop over the oncoming weeks, with thanks to his Press Office.

We are also gratefully making public a double talk on “The Vision of God in the Hebrew Scriptures”, recorded in London in May 2011, delivered jointly by Margaret Barker, and by Jonathan Gorsky of Heythrop College.

Finally, we have some newly uploaded poems by Martin Lings, read by himself, including some of his alliterative poems, like “Midsummer” and “Autumn”.

Donate Online to Support The Matheson Trust

May 18th, 2011

If you are interested in supporting the work of The Matheson trust, please follow this link to our donations page, where you will find the relevant information.

We shall be glad to give detailed accounts to potential donors who want to sponsor particular projects, be they related to website development, our growing Monographs collection or public events.

We would also like to encourage our current subscribers to spread the word and invite anyone interested to subscribe to our mailing list. It is as easy and unobtrusive as adding an email address to the little box on the right. No spam email, no commercial offers, only our monthly updates with information about our ongoing activities, especially in relation to our online library.

New Content: Poems, Book of Tea …

May 9th, 2011

Our library keeps growing slowly and steadily, and we encourage you to have a look at some of our recent additions:

In the Audio section we have three new poems by Martin Lings, read by himself, including “The Legend of Seyis and Halcyon”.

In the Far Eastern section of our Library, you will now find a beautiful edition of The Book of Tea, a well-known seminal work by Okakura Kakuzo.

The Editorial Board of Dilatato Corde, the International, multi-lingual journal of DIMMID (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue), recently granted us permission to share through our library some of their articles. The first fruit if this exchange is an article by Rev Michael Ipgrave: “The God Who Provokes Us All to Holiness”. Available through our Christianity section.

Searching the Matheson Library

April 12th, 2011

We are pleased to announce that our growing online library is now searchable (courtesy of Google), thus providing an invaluable research tool to all those interested in our selection of documents and texts.

You will find a new small search box on top of our Library menu, which allows you to do a basic search, and also to take advantage of Google advanced search conventions: you can search complete phrases, use wildcards and various search operators as required.

Other recent updates to our site include small but significant additions to the About Us section, including a dedicated page for donations, and some new content for our Links and Christianity pages.

The Gospel of Thomas published

March 31st, 2011

The fourth title in our Monographs series is now available:

The Gospel of Thomas
by Samuel Zinner,
with the subtitle:
In the Light of Early Jewish, Christian and Islamic Esoteric Trajectories.

This is a new translation of the short collection of Christic aphorisms found among the Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi in 1945, with attention to Greek and Coptic sources. The translation itself is preceded by the bulk of the book, where light is shed on the many threads that converged to produce works as the Gospel in question, and on the intricate relation between Judaism and early Christianity, especially between their respective esoterisms. This book is full of fresh and at times unexpected insights on the nature of early Christian and Kabbalistic cosmologies, including several sections on the little known Ebionite community and faith.

An excerpt of the book can be downloaded from our Publications page, and it can be ordered from booksellers worldwide, both through the internet and through wholesale and retail bookshops.

Matheson Monographs: first three volumes published

March 10th, 2011

We are happy to announce the publication of our first three Monographs: they include some translations and some original English works, ranging from the deep philological analysis to the lighthearted and lyrical Jewish parable.

Louis Massignon: The Vow and the Oath
by Patrick Laude, translated by Edin Q. Lohja.

The Living Palm Tree: Parables, Stories, and Teachings from the Kabbalah
by Mario Satz, translated by Juan Acevedo.

Christianity & Islam:
Essays on Ontology and Archetype

by Samuel Zinner.

Details and excerpts of the books can be found in our Publications page. They can be ordered from booksellers worldwide, both through the internet and through wholesale and retail bookshops.

Matheson Website Launched

March 4th, 2011

We are pleased to announce that our website is now open to the public. You can access it by following this link.

Although this is a first version of the site and many details need to be adjusted, we think that the resources so far included will help further the Trust’s aims, as they constitute a representative selection of texts and media. We expect to be adding and updating the website contents on a regular basis, and of course comments and suggestions are most welcome either through this blog page or directly through our contact page.

Chartwell Interfaith Tea

March 3rd, 2011

As part of the events celebrating the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, The Matheson Trust hosted on Friday 4 February an Interfaith Tea at the former home of Sir Winston Churchill, a few miles away from Westerham, Kent.

This event brought together local church leaders—Anglican, Catholic and Evangelical—to initiate in a relaxed atmosphere an interfaith dialogue between Muslim residents, church leaders and Christian residents of the local community.

‘St John Climacus of Sinai and the Ladder of Spiritual Ascent in Iconography’ – Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu

November 22nd, 2010

‘St John Climacus of Sinai and the Ladder of Spiritual Ascent in Iconography’ – Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu from Matheson Trust on Vimeo.

A pictorial exploration of this formative text for Orthodox monasticism, the work of ‘St John of the Ladder’, Abbot of St Catherine’s monastery, Sinai in the late sixth century. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent)

This film was made possible with the support of The Matheson Trust.

Filmed at the St. Theosevia Centre for Christian Spirituality, Oxford. 6th November, 2010.

Part of the “Drawing from the Wellsprings of the Desert” lecture series. Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu and Revd Dr Liz Carmichael

‘Cuthbert, Guthlac and the Life of St Antony’ – Dr Benedicta Ward SLG

November 22nd, 2010

‘Cuthbert, Guthlac and the Life of St Antony’ – Dr Benedicta Ward SLG from Matheson Trust2 on Vimeo.

Christians far from Egypt have drawn inspiration from the Life of St Antony, including England’s two most popular pre-Conquest hermit saints: Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (c.634-687) and Guthlac (c.673-714) whose hermitage in the fens became the Abbey of Crowland.

This film was made possible with the support of The Matheson Trust.

Filmed at the St. Theosevia Centre for Christian Spirituality, Oxford. 6th November, 2010.

Part of the “Drawing from the Wellsprings of the Desert” lecture series. Dr Benedicta Ward SLG and Revd Dr Liz Carmichael

International Symposium on Islam, Salvation, and the fate of others

April 14th, 2010

On April 16 and 17, 2010, the University of Illinois Department of Religion will host an international symposium entitled “Islam, Salvation, and the Fate of Others.” The purpose of this symposium is to explore views on salvation in Islamic thought, particularly as it pertains to “Others,” i.e., non-Muslims. The participants of this conference (and book project) are among the most prominent academics engaged in this discourse.

Following the symposium there will be an edited volume available on ‘Islam, Salvation and the fate of others’ .

All lectures are free and open to the public, for more information follow this link.

Martin Lings Remembered

January 16th, 2010

An account of the Martin Lings Centenary Lecture delivered by Dr Reza Shah Kazemi at the Royal Asiatic Society, November 28, 2009

The Royal Asiatic Society auditorium was filled to capacity with people who had come to hear the third and final lecture in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of the late Dr Martin Lings. As the clock approached seven, those who had been unable to secure tickets before they sold out were ushered in, relieved not to have been turned away. The white marble statue of Sir Henry Thomas Colebrooke, founder of the Royal Asiatic Society, gazed impenetrably at the audience as Emma Clark introduced Dr Shah Kazemi on behalf of the Matheson Trust and the Temenos Academy, co-sponsors of the event.

There is perhaps no one better qualified to deliver the talk than Dr Shah-Kazemi, a long time friend, student and disciple of Dr Lings who was also his next-door neighbour for fifteen years. He delivered an account of Dr Lings —Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din as he is also known— that was at the same time intimate, objective, and illuminating. Dr Shah-Kazemi centered his talk on the notion of spiritual sincerity (sidq in Arabic) and illustrated how Dr Lings was the perfect embodiment of this sincerity in every aspect of his life — his mind, character and heart. The leitmotif of the talk was one of Dr Lings’s poems, “Self Portrait,” in which he apparently laments his birth, so late in the historical cycle, that prevented him from witnessing first-hand the prophets and avataras of the great religions, including King David, Krishna, Jesus, the Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. But the poem ends with the stirring lines:

No more I say: Would it had been!
For I have seen what I have seen,
And I have heard what I have heard.
So if to tears ye see me stirred,
Presume not that they spring from woe:
In thankful wonderment they flow.
Praise be to Him, the Lord, the King,
Who gives beyond all reckoning.

This mysterious and powerful allusion to that which Dr Lings has ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ is none other than the concomitance of the deep spiritual sincerity which he attained by God’s grace and which Dr Shah-Kazemi beautifully illustrated with a combination of extracts from Dr Lings’s writings, his lectures and teachings and small jewels of wisdom that Dr Shah-Kazemi witnessed in his everyday actions.

This was a lecture unlike so many lectures that are merely accounts of historical facts and theses. The very nature of the man demanded that the audience taste of the sincerity in question, directly. Just as Dr Lings spoke of how the saints drank directly from the fountains of divine mercy and grace that lie in Paradise, Dr Shah Kazemi transmitted to the audience the perfume of this concrete spiritual presence that he experienced in his contact with Dr Lings.

There was an almost cathartic effect on the audience, accompanied by gasps and sighs of inner joy and insight, as the greatness of a man that they may or may not have had the chance to meet in the flesh was remembered. By the end of the talk several of the audience were themselves in tears, but it was evident that these were not born of sorrow, but rather from that ‘thankful wonderment’ that Dr Lings himself mentions in his poem.

Dr Shah-Kazemi, paraphrasing Lings’s writings, summed up the experience, “when you are in contact with actualised perfection, that can have an actualising impact on your own soul — it can help you to bring to fruition the sanctity that is waiting to be realised within you.”

As Dr Shah-Kazemi remarked in his talk, one of the testaments to the greatness and legacy of Dr Lings is the influence he had on many people, not just during his lifetime, but even now after his passing. The lecture provided an opportunity to meet with some of the attendees, some of whom had come from abroad for the occasion. Dr Shah Kazemi personally thanked them at the beginning of his talk, remarking that they illustrated the strong magnetism that Dr Lings continues to exert on spiritual seekers.

This thought was echoed by another attendee, Slimane A. from Oxford. “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of him is his gentleness, his kindness. But as a spiritual master he saw in you what you needed most and he gave you that. There was a certain luminance to Shaykh Abu Bakr, especially towards the last years and months of his life and everyone perceived that. There was a kind of special gentleness for his spiritual children and even all human beings.”

Ovidio Salazar knew Lings for many years and worked with him to produce a film on his 1948 pilgrimage to Mecca. “I couldn’t begin to describe the immense influence he had on my life. He is someone who would constantly remind us of what we should strive to become.”

Other attendees spoke of the influence that Lings’s life and thought had upon themselves and the world. Keith Critchlow, co-founder of the Temenos Academy and lifelong lover of the traditional arts, summarised his thoughts on Dr Lings: “Dr Lings was the most extraordinary balance and mixture between one of my ideals as an English gentleman and an unfathomable Sufi, a man of faith. His particular contribution was to get twentieth century human beings to rethink what symbolism is and what it means because we’ve reached a stage where the media has reduced language to its lowest possible level.” Lings also had a deep impact on Critchlow’s inner life, “I learned from him the spiritual way of silence.”

For Sebastian Moro, an Argentinian student of neoplatonic philosophy, Lings and his teachers furnish a key to unlocking the true meaning of philosophia. “Perennialism helps me understand ancient philosophy much better than any academic point of view or approach. So when I cannot understand Plato or the neoplatonists, I read Guenon, Schuon and Martin Lings. Professor Shah-Kazemi is a representative of a living tradition, and that is why I came to this lecture.” This was an echo of the point that Dr Shah-Kazemi made during the lecture when he discussed Lings’s own adamant assertion about himself, “Lings is nothing without Schuon.”

Another philosopher, John Varnes said, “ I’m primarily a student of Whitehead. When you look at other traditions you find many common elements and I’m trying to keep as open a view as possible —that’s the whole idea of Whitehead, not to consider anything outside a unity. There aren’t two —only one in the Universe.”

During the period of time when Lings was Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at the British Museum, he had a great influence on the young Tajammul Hussain, an aspiring artist who, thanks to the guidance of Dr Lings, came to specialise in the nearly lost art of Quranic Illumination. “He was instrumental in helping me to develop my understanding of the art of Quranic illumination, which is what I now teach at the Ashmolean, based on the lectures he used to give. I attended every one of his lectures, even if it was repeated over and over again, because great truths would come out spontaneously.”

Others spoke of their personal encounters with Lings. For Justin Majzub, “the key thing that happened in my life was my providential meeting with Martin Lings. I heard his voice as he spoke to a young man who was asking questions on Islam. And just from those few moments hearing his beautiful voice, I was transformed, so to speak, melted down to the core. I was amazed to find out that this wonderful saintly Muslim didn’t live on top of a mountain somewhere in the Yemen, but actually lived in Kent and that I could actually have access to him. And that was the beginning of the most wonderful period in my life.”

Justin’s mother, Margaret Majzub, had the privilege of entertaining Dr Lings in her home during one of his trips with Justin. “I loved the man. He visited my house just once. He left an odour of sanctity in the house, literally. He had such a soft, lovely voice. I hear his voice in my ear now.”

Perhaps the most personal account came from Jean and Gerry Kittel, Dr Lings’s next door neighbours of over twenty years. Shortly after Lings died, Jean’s doctor discovered a serious tumour in her body and said she would have to go in for immediate surgery. “The x rays looked really awful —so awful that the doctor wouldn’t even stick a needle in me because he said it was too invasive. I went to Dr Lings’s grave and said to him, ‘I need some help here!’ I went in to have the operation and when I woke up, the doctor was standing next to me saying, ‘there’s nothing there!’ They really couldn’t understand it. It was pretty amazing. So we have been affected a lot by him. He was a lovely, lovely man, and we miss him.”

A recording of Dr Shah-Kazemi’s talk is now available through this link.

The Martin Lings Centenary Lecture – The Temenos Academy

April 16th, 2009

This special lecture by Seyyed Hossein Nasr is in memory of Dr Martin Lings, who was born in 1909 and died in 2005.

Friday 15 May 2009 at 1.30pm

The Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7
Doors open at 1pm

The lecture will be followed by refreshments and the sale of books by Dr Lings and Prof. Nasr
Admission £10 or £8 Members of the Temenos Academy / Concessions

Patron HRH The Prince of Wales
The Martin Lings Centenary Lecture
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University

Prof. Keith Critchlow
President Emeritus The Temenos Academy

Further information
Telephone: 01233 813663

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The Temenos Academy gratefully acknowledges the support of The Matheson Trust