Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Hidden Conversation and Interfaith

The idea of interfaith has come up in our comments lately.

In my opinion interfaith work is one of the things that really needs to be worked on these days. If we don't we have nothing to look forward to than holy wars and inquisitions.

While, as I have mentioned before, the technical language of Sufism is that of Islam, the techniques of Sufism are science. This means that the results have nothing to do with magic or metaphysics. So A person can take the skills and techniques of kalam al batini and apply them to anyone regardless of their religious beliefs. You might need to speak in Christian metaphors, or Buddhist metaphors, or secular humanist metaphors, but the result is the same.

So in a certain sense, the ultimate interfaith is science.

(Of course we may never convince the creationists of this)

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In our recent conversations there has been some talk of making decisions about the validity of a person’s “Sufiness” by comparing his or her qualifications against an “internal checklist”. That being the case it is probably a good time to introduce the next concept from Al Kalam Al Batini.

The name for this concept is Al Ma’bud an-Nafs.

Ma’bud is an Arabic word that comes from the root ain-be-dal, ‘abd. Most people who have any contact with Muslims have encountered this root quite a bit as it is the most common prefix for Muslim names such as Abdulla (‘abd Allah, servant or slave of God)

There are three basic meanings to the root ‘abd. The first is “to serve or worship”, the second is “to enslave or subjugate” and the third is “to make a way that is passable by traffic”.

The word Ma’bud is most often translated as “Idol” (though in some contexts it can mean “beloved”) So al ma’bud an-nafs is most often translated as “the idols of the ego”.

Al ma’bud an-nafs refers to a particular kind of “mental processing for decision making” that I have referred to as “heuristic thinking”.

Heuristic thinking is a method of predicting outcomes through comparison to previously recognized patterns.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this, as a matter of fact it is a necessary style of thinking to be able to function in the world.

Without this particular skill set we would have to use our higher cognitive functions to make the smallest choices. Imagine the problems that would ensue if you had to make conscious, rational choices about such things as opening a door, or worse, driving a car.

Now “heuristic thinking” is entirely in the domain of Nafs. That is its proper function. One of the reasons that problems arise is that Nafs is also “in charge” of one’s “survival instinct.”

There is probably no other function in the “undeveloped” human as powerful as the “survival instinct”, and when ones Nafs is in the ammara state it requires vast amounts of “energy” to fulfill what it interprets as its duty.

One of the problems with this is that Nafs is not very good at this. “Heuristic thinking”, unless it is very carefully programmed by the “higher functions” has a greater chance of being wrong than right.

Let me give you a simple example.

You are presented with three stone jars. In the first are fifty white pebbles and fifty black pebbles. The second contains ten white pebbles and ninety black pebbles, and the third contains ninety white pebbles and ten black pebbles.

You are asked to make a choice.

You may either choose to attempt to draw one black pebble from the jar containing fifty black and fifty white pebbles or you can choose to attempt to draw seven black pebbles in a row from the jar that contains ninety black pebbles and ten white pebbles. Remember your life may depend on making the best choice.

Which do you choose?

You are then asked to make a second choice. You may attempt to draw one black pebble from the jar containing fifty black and fifty white pebbles or you can choose to attempt to draw one black pebble in seven tries from the jar that contains ninety white pebbles and ten black pebbles (putting your choice back each time so you are always drawing from a full hundred).

Which do you choose?

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Believe it or not, in the first problem, drawing from the jar that contains ten white pebbles and ninety black pebbles is the worse of the two choices, it only has a 48% chance of success. (Verses the 50% chance for the first choice)

In the second problem the first choice is the worst. You have a 52% chance of success by attempting to draw one black pebble in seven tries from the jar that contains ninety white pebbles and ten black pebbles (putting your choice back each time so you are always drawing from a full hundred).

Now it does not matter if you guessed right as to which choice was “better”, what matters is your process for making the choice.

When the Nafs is “self-programming” it is called Nafs al Ammara, the commanding ego. Nafs is not good at “self-programming” for higher functions. All Nafs can do is set up “heuristic routines” based on very crude “programming abilities”.

When Nafs al Ammara is “in charge” of determining response to inner and outer stimuli by running all experience through its “heuristic routines”, these routines are called “Ma’bud an Nafs”, the idols of the ego.

The process of breaking the “addiction” to Nafs al Ammara and turning over the “metaprogramming” task to Dhat (essential self) is one of the main tasks of the Sufi Path.

When one studies the general outline of the progression thru the seven layers of the Nafs, it can be seen that each of these steps turns over a greater degree of responsibility for “metaprogramming” to the essential self as it develops a solid connection to the “ultimate metaprogramer” Allah ta ala. This is one of the reasons that many Sufis tend to refer to God as Al Haqq (the truly Real)

When the mechanical ego reaches the stage of Nafs al Safiyya, purified ego, it can, for the first time be said to be truly awake and functioning correctly.

It could be said that when Nafs is at the station of Ammara, it is asleep and dreaming. Its dreams produce the content of al Anfus. The “landscape of al Anfus is populated with al Ma’bud an Nafs, the idols of the ego. All available attention goes to maintaining these idols. In its “sleep” Nafs thrashes about as if it were having nightmares.

When Nafs is at the station of Safiyya its attention is focused on al Afaq. It can be said to be “at rest” in the sense that it develops a quality of “stillness” that allows it to “objectively” process what is given to it from al Afaq and its “heuristic routines” are being monitored and reprogrammed by Dhat.

After we knock this around a bit I will post the next part.

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