SUFI Journal explores the diverse aspects of mysticism, spiritual thought and practice through articles, interviews, poetry, narratives, art, reviews and much more.
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KNOWLEDGE OF THE SELF
by Alireza Nurbakhsh
Since the time of Plato (d. 347 B.C.E) knowledge has been generally defined in the Western tradition as a justified true belief. The justification occurs either through empirical evidence or a discursive method of mathematics. We know that the sun is shining if and only if the sun is shining and we perceive this to be the case. We also know that 2+2=4 is true by understanding the meaning of “2” and “4” and the plus sign.
Following the same tradition, the French philosopher René Descartes (d. 1650) classified human knowledge into two categories: empirical knowledge which is based on sensory perception and mathematical knowledge which is non-empirical and is based on the definitions of our mathematical concepts and rules. For Descartes, the knowledge of the self is empirical knowledge, immediately presented to us through introspection: I know I am in pain because I feel pain. Although Descartes could doubt the existence of everything, including the truth of mathematical statements, he could not doubt that he was doubting. Since for Descartes doubting is a form of thinking, he then arrived at his famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” Knowledge of the self and its indubitable nature is thus the cornerstone of Cartesian philosophy.
HEART OF THE MATTER
Interview with Tiokasin Ghosthorse
by Sholeh Johnston
In the seclusion of the northern Pennines in England, a group of forty people gather around a cozy fireplace in silence. The paper and kindling crackle in the flames, and our esteemed guest speaker, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, lifts a pinch of tobacco from his pouch, feeding it to the fire. It is a subtle and meaningful act, though we cannot yet explain why. It is felt. Tiokasin settles into his chair, looks up at us all with a warm smile, and begins.
“Imagine a language without ‘I’ without the concept of death, or mystery. Can you imagine it? You are now speaking Lakota.” Minds bend attempting to comprehend this possibility. He asks us all to write for ten minutes about ourselves, without using the words “I,” “me,” “my” or “mine.” In the sentences that emerge, the most apparent thing is relationship—to each other and the complex and mysterious web of life around us. “What if, when we are outdoors, we are really inside?” he asks. The simplicity of the lesson is profound, and exemplary of Tiokasin’s teaching—rooted, sincere, authentic, beyond the individual.
THE SONG BECOMES EVERYTHING
Kanai Das Baul and the Path of Longing
by Surat Lozowick
Why are you afraid? We’re scattered in a circle, trying to match the melody that Kanai Das Baul sends high into the air, like a bird sent far then called back, sending messages to that which made us, returning with wisdom to share. His voice flies clear, straight, true: melody simple yet beautifully precise.
Night descends, darkness and a slight chill coming through open barn walls, cloth ceiling above us breathing with the wind. Kanai Das Baul, “Kanai Da,” sits attentively at the front, lit by LED lights, ektara (a single-stringed drone instrument) in one hand, ankle bracelet in the other.
On Becoming Human
by Annouchka Bayley
We have never been fully human. This is the contention of some of the authors who work with post humanisms. Every time I’ve mentioned the word “posthumanism” outside (and even sometimes within) the academy, I’ve been met with variations on a theme of incredulity. “What do you mean posthuman?” Then laughter. This is a state of affairs that is both encouraging and discouraging. Discouraging because it suggests that a fundamental belief about “our” humanism is that we have actually achieved it. Or that we’ve always been there—at least since the Vitruvian Man burst out in all his glory in the Italian Renaissance courtesy of Da Vinci.
Diffraction refers to physical phenomena, processes like light diffracting through a prism on a journey of ontology as it explodes into an array of colours…
Internal. External. Eternal. These aspects of a seeker’s self are always in conversation. The writers in this issue eavesdrop on this conversation, and relay what they’ve heard with varying approaches at turns lyrical or layered in complexity, direct or meandering. Some grounded in ancient history, and some firmly planted in a technological future. What do you know of yourself? Perhaps it might be more interesting to ask who—and where—is the you that is knowing it?
Surat Lozowick offers a vivid potrayal of Kanai Das Baul of Bengal, whose day job is “singing to the Divine Mother,” who is immersed in the presence of his Beloved whether in song or silence. Sholeh Johnston interviews Tiokasin Ghosthorse, who re-defines what many think of, by habit, as an external natural environment as actually existing within, when he suggests that it’s not about personally identifying with nature, “…it’s that you ask Mother Earth to be with you when you speak.” In her piece, Diffracting Rumi, Annouchka Bayley riffs on the prismatic capacities of both poem and guru; each can throw rays here and there, yet remain constant in essence. When the spirit takes human form, we are reminded of the Koranic version of a Divine Presence outside human experience, but closer than your jugular. Bernardo Kastrup, in conversation with Neil Johnston, also questions the reliability of the concept of “outside,” asserting that matter is only a matter of perception, and that, “It tries to answer this question: If this world isn’t outside consciousness, how come we are all sharing perceptions of the same world?” Mary Gossy, in her piece, Letter Pressing, tells us how a word gets in the body through slow reading, how truth gets in the body through physical movement and contact, and how “Being enclosed, in a space or a practice or both…the kingdom of heaven within and without touches itself in you.”
The conversation of true self knowledge is sometimes an analytical dialogue, sometimes an intimate whispering, sometimes a love poem to the part of you that isn’t only you. “Searching is outside. Be with the guru, don’t search…” Kanai Da reminds us. And in his discourse on knowledge of self, Alireza Nurbakhsh quotes Attar’s stanza explaining that when one reaches the stage of self-knowledge: He sees the core, not the outer layer, He does not see himself anymore, only the Friend.
Slider Photos/Artwork: ©SEKHAR ROY; ©ELLEN JANTZEN; ©ANNAFILL28 – PIXABAY.COM; ©RADIM SCHREIBER / FIREFLY EXPERIENCE
Posts Photos/Artwork – Top left/Clockwise: ©ELLEN JANTZEN; ©NANCY GREIFENHAGEN; ©SEKHAR ROY; ©LYNDSAY MILNE MCLEOD AND LUKE KIRWAN