SUFI Journal

98 Ayurveda


A Spiritually Rich Education


There is a direct relationship between physical, mental, and spiritual health, as per Ayurveda, the science of health and healing from ancient India. Spirituality helps one understand the basic building blocks of human individuality and speaks to ultimate concerns of human existence. It helps us cope with the stress of life, personal strivings and issues of adaptive functioning. Spirituality supports the deepest healing and total transformation —which is possible when existential suffering (that all human beings experience at some time or another in life) is directly addressed with spiritual knowledge of the invincible Self.1
Physical medicine has limitations in this capacity, and this is where the need to blend the hard science of disease management with pragmatic spirituality becomes apparent. The seers, who were the original authors of Ayurveda, gifted humanity a unique medicine that is simultaneously an artful way of living to protect and optimize health. Ayurveda is a science-based system of medicine to overcome chronic and acute physical disease, but also a spiritual path or philosophy to approach the transcendent or ultimate reality, by way of a purified mind.

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This purified mind reveals the truth of a subtle, spiritual core of the true Self (Atman), which is beyond the suffering of body and mind, always whole, healthy, incorporeal, ethereal, eternal, and which survives death.2

In this last capacity, Ayurveda seems to be able to satisfy the individual need for a sense of meaning in life (Trivarga)4 and the search for larger purpose in life (Moksha).4 “Meaning” may also include moral or ethical values (Dharma and Sadvirtta)5 that are universal, and emerge from Ayurveda’s view of the ultimate sacred reality (Brahman), which surpasses religion.

What is remarkable is that Ayurveda is perhaps humanity’s one and only system of health and recovery that corroborates the state of ideal or perfect health with a state of “transcendence,” or meta-experience of a transpersonal, unity consciousness. This outlook reflects Ayurveda’s spiritual Vedic roots and alignment with Vedic cultural ideals.

The concept of “love” in Ayurveda goes beyond the felt transitory “emotion,” into an abiding belief system, comprising of compassion, altruism, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, support, empowerment, respect, responsibility, etc., which shape intent, and guide our actions, both towards our self, and all other beings (Sarva Bhuta Hita).6

Thus, Ayurveda is a complete spiritual tradition (Adhyatmika Darshan). Ayurveda does not incorporate consciousness as part of its therapy as an adjunct. In contrast, in Ayurvedic medicine, life itself is described as a tripod of consciousness (Atman), body (Sharira), and mind (Sattva).7

Ayurvedic medicine is, thus, the first medicine of mankind ever to systematically and comprehensively incorporate spirituality, or consciousness, as the most essential aspect of healing, without which life itself is not possible.

No Forced Splitting Between Matter and Spirit

Therefore, classical Ayurveda’s understanding is vastly different from other healing sciences, which regard the subject matter as either purely physical or purely mental. Most medical systems claim their hard-earned pragmatism by denying, or at least ignoring, the possibility of the existence of consciousness.

The unique Ayurvedic approach positively empowers humans in their search for true health, by reminding us fragile humans of our inherent potential to self-heal by reclaiming connection with our spiritual Self, which is eternally whole, universally connected, and one with the ultimate reality. This spiritual Self is a source of plenary existence (Sat), plenary intelligence (Chit), and plenary bliss (Ananda). In other words, existence is consciousness and consciousness is bliss.8

The Self is an enigmatic, mighty power to the unversed, but Ayurveda invites each one of us to recognize this substratum of uninterrupted, immortal consciousness, and become familiar with our true nature, our eternal Self, through spiritual understanding. Once we begin to entertain the possibility of a transcendental Self that animates and outlives our fragile phenomenal body-being, we begin to appreciate our life in all its colors, depth, and essence. We will finally become ready to receive the supreme gift of spiritual knowledge (Atma Jnanam), which the Vedic Rishis were intending for all human beings.10

Ayurveda does not neglect one dimension at the cost of another. Ayurveda emphasizes that, for a healthy and fulfilled journey through life, all dimensions of “life” are correlated, equally significant, and co-operational. No other system of healing, apart from Ayurveda, delivers so comprehensively physical, mental, social, moral, ethical, ecological, environmental, and above all, spiritual health for the journeying soul.

Spirituality versus Religion

To continue to advocate a meaningful inclusion of spirituality in medicine, it is necessary to clarify a difference between the terms, “spirituality” and “religion.” Spirituality is, indeed, a multifaceted and multidimensional intellectual, experiential, and behavioral human quest for meaning, purpose, and expression of truth in life (known as the pursuit of Moksha in Ayurveda). It is also the mindful embodiment of universally applicable and entirely humane ethical values and beliefs by which an individual act, lives, and makes decisions in life (included under the concept of Dharma in Ayurveda).

The emotive aspects of spirituality involve feelings of optimism, hope, empathetic connection to all beings, compassion, care and love, a sense of inner centeredness, peacefulness, and finally, a continued reliance upon inner resources, in the form of an inner conviction of the presence of a cosmic power greater than oneself. This is subsumed under the concept of Sadvritta in Ayurveda.

Spirituality expresses itself in the ability to grow, learn, deserve self-worth, and to give and receive spiritual love with ease. A spirituality-driven person, as a result, has a healthy relationship with their self, others, the society, the natural environment, and this entire universe at large.

Religion, on the other hand, is a canonized set of beliefs about spirituality, headed by a group of individuals, and each religion attempts to help connect its followers to its unique “concept of spirituality” through its own body of practices, theories, rituals, and codes. Many find religion as a first door into the realm of spirituality, and others may find spirituality via other doors—not religion.

Spirituality, unlike religion, is the greater, more developed notion, and it can and does exist despite religion, as evidenced by the sciences of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta. An experience of spirituality is entirely possible even for the atheist or agnostic, who may choose to connect to a higher truth via nature, the arts, music, philosophy, and even the pursuit of pure science, since spirituality is a universal mind state that is connected to a meta-reality.

Precluding Spiritual Crisis

As per Ayurveda, because we are really spirit with a body and mind, our spiritual nature is primary, and our psychological and biological nature is secondary and dependent upon our spiritual nature. Hence, to be spiritually cognizant is important for the health of the other two dimensions of existence (body and mind).

One who is spiritually-inspired and has a sense of connectedness with a universal truth experiences hope, meaning, purpose, and inner strength to overcome to become. However, if there is a spiritual non-alignment for any reason (negative religious experiences in the past, life situations, such as terminal illness, or tremendous personal loss, that makes one spiritually-estranged), then individuals can experience existential isolation, mindlessness, meaninglessness, utter dismay and hopelessness that go beyond what can be fixed by mental health practitioners. This is a spiritual crisis and it has a lasting negative impact on mental, as well as physical health.

Ayurveda wants to proactively prevent spiritual crisis, by informing each human being of their spiritual Self, Atman, from the get-go. For a concept of health that goes beyond the limitations of body and mind, Ayurveda informs us that we are ultimately spirit, Atman, which is one and the same with the Universal Truth, or Brahman.

Atman (personal self) and Brahman (universal self) are not divinely illustrious personalities or godheads, but actually facets of the same Ultimate Reality, which transcends name and form, is permanent, immutable, unchanging, uncaused, non-dual ground of this diverse creation. While both terms ultimately refer to the same truth, Atman refers to the reality of consciousness expressed in living beings, while Brahman refers to the same consciousness in its purely transcendental, infinite universal state.

Evidently, the realization of the identity of the personal Self with transcendental consciousness is the highest goal of human life, as per Ayurveda.9 Further, this is not hard or impossible, teaches Ayurveda (in tune with the Veda), because this consciousness, or spiritual Self, is “self-revealing,” and its presence can be immediately known and experienced through the agency of a quieted mind. This consciousness, Atman, is indeed self-luminous.

It is to the credit of Ayurvedic medicine and its expansive sweep into the nature of existence that the multi-dimensional living being­—you and me, can hope to heal not only in body and mind, but also reclaim, at any time, our spiritual nature. There is hope. We can hope to be “seen.” We can hope to be appreciated with all our complexity. Our experiences are all valid, each and every one of them; and, we are not merely dismembered organs, structures, and functions; we are whole. We are more than our parts. We are lofty spirits having a local experience on this planet called earth, in this process called life. We are in all and all is in us. Everything is essentially as it is meant to be. Everything is peaceful, if we choose peace. Everything is one, regardless of whether we see diversity. Our true Self sings this soothing song. Listen. Let us hear it together through Ayurveda—this is the invitation of the Rishis, no less.

The Missed Opportunity by Modern Ayurveda Fraternity

Despite such a rich spiritual background, worldwide and especially in in India, Ayurveda’s country of origin, we witness more and more a preference toward a bio-pharmaceutical statistical model; and the word “holistic” is highly limited in its professional application.

Focus upon psycho-spiritual dimensions of health is minimal, if not absent. This is an unfortunate situation, partly due to the Ayurveda fraternity’s preoccupation with modern physical sciences and attempts to launch Ayurveda on the same footing as mainstream medicine. While there are pros and cons to this approach, the bottom line is that spirituality is being marginalized amongst Indian practitioners of Ayurveda, as well in the Ayurveda education process.

When spirituality is accepted as a living value that must be assiduously cultivated for true health and lasting well-being, it becomes the basis of a compassionate attitude toward all beings (including our self) and service toward those who are suffering.

I want to caution students as well as current and future Ayurveda practitioners against the quick commodification of Ayurvedic spirituality, as is unfortunately the trend in new-age culture.

If we, as a community, do not define what the basic premise of Ayurvedic spirituality is from the source texts, and what its landmark principles and salient features are, a misappropriation of an ancient spiritual wellness tradition cannot be ruled out. In the current era, when the ancient wisdom that was once passed on carefully from teacher to select student, can now be bought and sold literally with the click of a button, its application, too, becomes driven by market trends.

Practitioners of future can take wisdom forward today, to continue to bridge the great divide between the material and spiritual dimensions of health that has beset Ayurveda today. But first, they must make the effort to study Ayurveda in a deeper way—deeper than merely mastering dosha-balancing techniques, quick lists and tips.

I hope my efforts in this direction, namely of enabling a spiritually-infused, whole-person education through classical Ayurveda, will broaden the understanding of the role of spirituality and dharma ethics in improving the health and well-being of individual patients, families, and healthcare providers.

1  Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, I, Shloka, 55-56
2  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, Shloka 59
3  Ashtanga Hridayam, Sutra Sthanam, I, Shloka 2
4  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, V, Shloka 16-19 5 Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, II, 46-47
5  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, V, 22-24
6  Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, VIII, 29
7  Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthanam, 1, 46-47
8  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 83, 155
9  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 155
10  Charaka Samhita, Sharira Sthanam, I, 143-146


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98 Enchantment on the Freeway

Enchantment on the Freeway


One of my guilty pleasures is that I love cars. And I love driving, especially on long road trips. One day some years ago I decided to drive from Oakland, California, to Danville to have lunch with friends–driving my new car.

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I headed out on a beautiful spring morning, cruising along with a recording of the beautiful Hindu chant Govinda Jaya Jaya carrying me along. Govinda Jaya Jaya is the song of one who seeks and finds total protection by the Lord. Govinda and Gopala are names of Krishna in the form of a shepherd. Set in the Bilaval raga, its beautiful melody draws forth feelings of joy, repose, tenderness, and prayer. Besides, it’s wonderful driving music.

Govinda Jaya Jaya
Gopala Jaya Jaya
Radha Ramana Hari
Govinda Jaya Jaya

I was heading from Oakland on Route 24, a very scenic highway, but when I turned onto Highway 680 to connect to Walnut Creek and on to my final destination, I was driving on what is arguably one of the most beautiful highways anywhere. Once past Mt. Diablo, fewer houses mar the landscape, but horses abound. California live oak, gnarled and windblown, and huge gray boulders set against the green hills, dominate the view. Simply breathtaking. Chanting along with Govinda Jaya Jaya and enjoying my new car, I was in heaven.

In heaven­—right up to the point where the traffic had stopped dead still. In front of my car were six very large bighorn sheep in the middle of the five-lane freeway. The first miracle was that nobody hit them. We all just sat in our cars, feet off the gas pedals, transfixed. In front of us were beautiful, rose-blond animals with huge curled horns. Nobody honked. Instead, everyone got out of their cars and started moving forward to see what was going on. And then we just stood there, quiet.

After a while, a man in the far-right lane began to drive his car slowly forward, but instead of driving on down the freeway, he turned left beyond the sheep. The second car saw what he was doing and followed him, and I followed, and then the car next to me, and then the PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) truck in the far-left lane. The cars in the rows behind us pulled forward, and we made a circle around the animals. Without discussing it, we all got out of our vehicles and opened the doors so the bighorns couldn’t get past us.

It was a moment.

This was before the day of the ubiquitous cell phone, but somebody in the back of the pack had one and called animal control. And we waited. The woman next to me came over to my car and said, “Help me out here.” I asked her what she wanted, thinking maybe she needed water.

“Tell me you are playing Govinda Jaya Jaya on your stereo. Tell me it isn’t in my head, and that I haven’t totally lost my mind.” The tape was still playing.

I laughed. “No, it’s me. The music is coming from my car. Yes, the sheep are real. Yes, we’re standing here in the middle of the freeway with our cars circling a herd of sheep. And everyone is just standing here in the sun, enjoying the moment.”

“Oh, thank God,” she said.

People kept moving forward, and, eventually, our cars were surrounded by people just standing there, looking, waiting. It was very still, except for the music—certainly no less a mystical experience than St. Francis and Poor Clare dancing on the road in the hills of Umbria above Gubbio.

Govinda Jaya Jaya
Gopala Jaya Jaya
Radha Ramana Hari
Govinda Jaya Jaya

I wondered what reality those animals were living in. Spiritual teachers tell us this world is an illusion; “maya” they call it. What maya were those bighorn sheep experiencing, circled by cars on a California freeway in noonday sun? Certainly, a new experience for all of us. I wondered why, when the cars ahead had cleared the space, they hadn’t turned and driven up the road? Another miracle, I thought, was that the bighorn didn’t start ramming our cars with their huge horns. I was grateful. And watchful.

After a time, we saw the highway patrol and the animal control vehicles slowly driving toward us. They’d come down the exit ahead and were driving toward us in the wrong direction. When they reached us, they came and just stood with the crowd, looking, shaking their heads. The animal control people used long poles with loops to gather up the now utterly terrified bighorns, loading them into their vehicles. They had to make a call for a second vehicle. I guess they hadn’t imagined how big these sheep were. Then people slowly began returning to their cars.

The woman next to me shook her head, smiling, “Sometimes you can’t possibly understand something, but all the same, you know exactly what it means.”

I laughed, “You know what? I totally understand what you just mean.” She, too, started laughing.

When the bighorns were safely loaded into the animal shelter vehicles, we slowly and carefully drove out of the circle and resumed our journeys. I doubt that anyone who was there that day will ever forget the look in those bighorns’ beautiful light-brown eyes filled with sheer terror, nor our calm and peacefulness, knowing that they would eventually be safe. Because Lord Krishna was a shepherd? Perhaps. Because the music of that ancient raga calmed them? Maybe. Or was it because sometimes, just sometimes, people have more sense than we normally give ourselves credit for?

Adapted from a chapter in a forthcoming book entitled The Threshing Machine.


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98 Communion of Saints

Communion of Saints

The Christian Mystical Tradition
in Dialogue with Sufism


The Communion of Saints is deeply embedded in the mystical tradition of Catholic Christian belief and practice. Dating back to the beginning of Christianity 2000 years ago, it speaks to the very heart of the spiritual life of the Church. The striving for sanctity, or holiness in response to the Divine is common to many religious faith communities and also refers to a person perceived as “holy” as a “saint.” The earliest saints recognized by the Church in the first century were known as martyrs, a word that means “witness” in Greek. Stephen was the first martyr. His story is found in the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian scriptures. The significance of his story highlights the understanding of true martyrdom in the Church at the time as it very much imitates the Passion of Jesus. Stephen was ultimately stoned to death while praying “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:54). The saint therefore was one who not only died defending his faith, but also suffered and died as Jesus Christ did in his Passion. These first witnesses who died with Christ, and as he did, were also resurrected with him into eternal life.

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With the ending of the Roman persecution of Christians in the fourth century when Constantine became the first Christian Roman Emperor, the holiness that led the Church to declare a saint included those early desert Fathers who for the sake of imitating the forty days that Christ went into the desert to pray, renounced the world and devoted their lives to prayer and fasting and self-denial. In the Middle Ages the founders of monastic religious communities whose charisma attracted followers who made vows of chastity, poverty and obedience were also often put forward to be officially recognized by the Church as saints. Not only did these saints live exemplary holy lives, but they became examples for all the faithful to follow as well. Those continue to be the criteria for putting forward a person for sainthood in the church to this day.

The “Communion of Saints” implies the spiritual connection of the saints, who are already alive in the Kingdom of God in eternal life, with the earthly Kingdom of God that Christians are invited by Jesus to enter into and co-create on earth with God, his Father in heaven. The saints, who on the day of their death are reborn into eternal life, remain in communion with those on earth and continue to pray for us as we do for them. It is not difficult to see the mystical dimension of this Communion of Saints that enfolds all Christian believers into eternal life in God with all those who have gone before us.

Over the centuries the process of officially declaring a holy person a saint has evolved in the Church and has become a very precise and detailed process that includes meticulously identifying the authenticity of the life of this person but also the miracles claimed by those who have prayed to them after their death. Sometimes these are miraculous cures of diseases proven to have no medical rationale. Many officially-declared saints have attracted followers who regularly pray for their intercession and who make pilgrimages to their shrines. At baptisms and confirmation ceremonies individuals often take the name of a saint as their patron saint and even countries adopt a saint’s patronage placing the people under their mystical, or heavenly protection. And although the requirement that a saint either die for their faith as a martyr or retreat from the world into a desert asceticism or into a monastic religious community is no longer the only path to sainthood in the Church, this kind of “dying to oneself” remains a very significant part of Christian spirituality both for laypersons as well as vowed religious who live in monastic communities. It is not foreign to other traditions as well. To strive to overcome our selfish desires and idol worship of money and possessions and everything other than God and turn our attention to the needs of other human beings instead, is common to all three Abrahamic faith traditions as well as others.

In Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, there are those who are called Abdal, the plural of Bâdal in Arabic, which means to replace one thing with another, or to take the place of, or exchange, or substitute one thing for another. It also means a good or religious person, or saint. In Persia, it means a religious devotee or dervish. The prayer of the Abdal is less about consolation and peace in one’s heart than it is about entering so deeply into the immensity of God’s love for all human beings that one begins to love as God loves, willingly sacrificing oneself if necessary out of compassion for others. Those called want everyone to experience God’s love as they experience it, because they know that only this kind of love can heal our broken world, change violence and retaliation into compassion and forgiveness and human suffering into freedom and joy.

Reflecting on the biblical origins for the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints draws us ever more deeply into its mystical dimensions. In his letters to the communities in Corinth and Rome, St. Paul wrote:

“For in the Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews, Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13)

“For as one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:4-5)

Like our human bodies that are made up of many parts that depend upon one another, so too the baptized Christian spiritually becomes part of the body of Christ, therefore St. Paul reminds us:

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor 12:12)

When we reflect on the multiple layers of meaning in the phrase, “Communion of Saints”, we see that it relates significantly to our sense of self. Much as the Sufi mystic discovers the illusory nature of our ego-bound understanding of self, Christian mystics discover that ultimately only God exists. The sixteenth-century Saint Teresa of Avila called God, Friend as did the Sufi saint al-Hallaj, who wrote:

“I have become the One who I love, and the One I love has become me! We are two spirits merged into one body! To see me is to see Him and to see Him is to see Us.” (Le Diwan d’al-Hallaj)

Hallaj was so in love with the Beloved that he could no longer make a distinction between the two. So too the Christian mystic, and perhaps all Christians, are invited throughout the Scriptures to experience God, or the Divine as Love.

Those called want everyone to experience God’s love as they experience it, because they know that only this kind of love can heal our broken world, change violence and retaliation into compassion and forgiveness and human suffering into freedom and joy.

To love one another as God first loved us is becoming Love itself. Or, to see others as God sees. Experiencing others with this kind of compassion is not an easy life path. For Christians, the greatest example of this kind of selfless love is the image of Christ Jesus offering his life on a cross for the salvation of humanity. Experiencing another’s reality as intrinsically a part of my own sense of self requires both a dying to myself and an ability to see all of creation as sacred, or One in God, as did the well-revered 13th-century Saint Francis in his poetic verses to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. It also requires identifying ourselves with the poorest among us, the most neglected, the refugees, displaced and imprisoned as they too are bound to us in the Communion of Saints.

Out of love for the Beloved, all saints, recognized or not by the Church, are the witnesses of God’s love for all of creation and herald the possibility of the Kingdom of God on earth that Jesus preached. The Book of Hebrews calls them a “cloud of witnesses” and Revelations, the last Book in the Christian Scriptures, describes the mystical visions of the apostle John that may also symbolize a vision of the Communion of Saints.

“I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites”; and “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
(Rev. 8:4, 9)

As the Sufi recognizes that there is only one reality that we call “being” or “existence,” the Christian mystic names this oneness of being, “the body of Christ” as we are all gathered into one Communion of Saints, eternally alive in God, on earth and in heaven.


Woodward, Kenneth L. 1996. Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint,Who Doesn’t and Why. Simon & Shuster.

Massignon, Louis. 1955. Le Diwan d’al-Hallaj. p. 93, no. 57. Paris; Librairie Orientaliste. Paul Geuthner.



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98 Unless



[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]


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I was a voice
crying out from the wilderness
you silenced me with a glance

a wanderer
you seated me
among the placeless

now utterly alone
I’ve become

you remember

unless clothed
in your Truth!

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98 The Psychomagique of Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Psychomagique
of Alejandro Jodorowsky

Interview by Reid Pierce

Alejandro Jodorowsky is an artist in every sense of the word. He is a Chilean-French novelist, screenwriter, poet, playwright, essayist, film and theater director and producer,
actor, film editor, comics writer, musician and composer, philosopher, puppeteer, mime, psychologist and psychoanalyst, painter, sculptor and spiritual guru. Best known for his avant-garde films such as El Topo and The Holy Mountain, he has been venerated by cult cinema enthusiasts for his work which is filled with violently surreal images and a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation. He lives in Paris and turned 90 this year.

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Besides being an artist, you are also a psychotherapist. You have developed a unique blend of psychotherapy and spirituality called psychomagique—what is the type of advice you would give people who are caught up in themselves and their egos? I would only say you need to die to yourself. Most people are worried about everything and it shows that they only care about themselves. They must die to themselves before they can live. From there they can start a new life.

That is interesting as in Sufism there is often talk of dying before you die. In other words, dying to yourself and this world. Exactly. You must do that or else.

What do you see as the role or purpose of art then? My goal of art is to bring the person to explore self like a beautiful artwork itself. It is healing. Myself, I make all the art with this as my mission. To heal.

For many years I make art like paintings but before that I also make art like pantomime and theatre. For example, when I lived in Mexico I made 100 theatre plays. Alone. From the theatre I start to go more and more into the study of what is the true theatre. So I began to eliminate things from my plays. I eliminated the scenery, the props, the stage. And then I even removed the actors! The discourse! The comedy writers. All the writers­—Shakespeare, Moliere, the rest—all finished and removed. And what was left. A human being was left with feeling and without art. And then it is just contact between one person to the other. This is where a healing act can begin. A healing act is only an act, but it is the art of healing. In fact, you are healing with art. This is what I call Psychomagique.

This October [2019] we will be premiering my latest film called just that—Psychomagique. We will be showing it in Paris and then it will be released worldwide. I will promote this film as one that can heal a person. If you take this further beyond the person, what do you need to heal? What do we need to heal most? Well you need to heal human beings, you need to heal humanity. And then you need to heal the planet. But in order to heal the planet, first stop is healing yourself. It is our only planet and so this is important for all.

That was very beautiful. I was going to ask this question later but it seems like an appropriate time now. It is a two-part question really. First, you talk about healing but why do you think humans need to be healed from our own condition? Second, if you look at events like the climate crisis or the presidency of Donald Trump, it doesn’t give much hope in terms of healing the planet—but what gives you hope? This is a hard question for me but mostly because in French and Spanish I am brilliant­—English not really! But really we cannot arrange the planet, you and me. But we can start to do it. How can we start to heal the planet? We can start by healing ourselves. When we heal ourselves, we need to begin to heal our family. When we heal our family, we need to heal human history itself. We have a very very ill past and this needs to be changed. For centuries we have not lived in balance with the planet and with the other living species on Earth. We may be physically different after this process even! But remember that man is an animal—we are simply an animal species that has evolved this far. But we have to further evolve and that is where art can push us.

We do live in an ill society though. Why do we live in an ill society? We started with a bad religion, with bad politics and bad economy! Everything is rotten, my friend, so what do you expect. Everything is rotten from education to the petrodollar to colonialism to wars. Healing oneself with pharmaceuticals alone makes one an addict as well. These problems are terrible so what do you expect, no? As the planet, how can you heal when your limbs and heart are ill? It is very difficult and is because of this crazy animal called man. Industry wants this and is killing the planet. War is a business and war is killing the planet. That is all. Religion is a business. Politics is a business. Everything is a business today. The bottom line is that business is killing us all. How can we even begin to heal this crazy world then? Heal yourself. Heal myself.

When I accepted your interview I knew I would be speaking with a crazy person because everyone is mad. Myself, maybe I am crazy too. But I am working on that. Some mystics can do this truly but I am empty. But not empty in the sense you think. I practiced Zen Buddhism for many years and that say that we are not nothing—we are an emptiness though this emptiness. This is not nothing though. This emptiness needs to replace the illusion we call the world. And so I am working on myself in order to heal others and serve.

In terms of Sufism, I read everything I could find on the subject from Attar to Rumi to Hafez and it seemed to show a similar way, or at least to me.

But why must we work in art? Because people cannot and should not continue to look at philosophy, religion, politics all these businesses as ways to help or heal. Art alone remains. What is the way forward to save us? Art. We are the art, too, though. The system is creating us. The infancy, stupidity and idiocy of our current state is being created around us so we must create something more beautiful. How can you and I speak with the dollar, with the petrodollar? We cannot. We can speak with art though.

Paths like that of the Sufi or caballero (chevalier or javanmard) can also provide the way forward as they point to all that is essential but this is a very difficult way.

Funnily, I am now on Instagram and Twitter at age 90. I have three million followers now. I communicate every day with these millions of people. Why? Because I am doing my way the best I can to reach the people in order to heal. These are not the spiritual people but the people. I am doing the best I can to reach them. The ones who need healing most. This is how people speak these days so I must speak the same to spread my art and to spread the healing. These are the same people who have fought wars and are killing the planet so they must be reached.

We must come to remember who we are. Come out of religion, politics and all that. How through art as it will reach the normal person. When you show true art like a poem or real music, not that stupid music you hear on the radio, but real music to wake yourself then it can wake you up. And this is the only way I know how to be. That is all.

They do not need to change themselves I should say but simply discover themselves as we are unconscious. We are sleeping like Gurdjieff said. Art can help wake us.

Sufism is a path of love towards love itself. What role does love have in your own art? Love is everything. The universe put 400 million years to construct a being like you. It took millions of years to make your hand. Surely this shows love as you are complete and created as love. So we are love itself. We are just drops of love in the universe. But the most important lesson I received was to make myself into emptiness not nothingness in order to receive others.

As the ancient Greeks insisted, know yourself. And what are we? We are one. Love unites us and is in fact what we are.

The easiest way to break your ego is to realize that you are not yourself but you are all the persons. You do not exist. We are all the planet, all the universe.
To be honest, when I accepted this interview at first I thought you were a Sufi master and I was disappointed when I see that you are not as you seem, like a child. But such masters are very rare—c’est la vie! But ask yourself why you are interviewing me? Is it for yourself and your ego or is for something else? At least I hope many people read these words in the Sufi Journal! And why are they reading my words? Ask why and discover your true self.

You can now ask three more questions and we are done with this interview!

Ha, ok! I will make this fast for you. Who is your favorite artist? Who inspires you? I cannot lie. My favorite artist is myself. I admire other artists but when I want to be inspired I look within. Art is what I am doing. If I don’t believe that I am a real artist how can I be inspired by others? I am not an artist then. Because you are asking this question to real artist. You are not asking this question to a person who paints. Or a person who boxes. Imagine asking that question to a boxer who is in constant competition with another fighter. Muhammad Ali!! The champion of the world! Hahaha! Artists are not boxers. We are not in competition with each other and thus do not need to study each other.

That is why I admire myself and that is it. That is the answer. No other artist compares to me.

Second question, many of your works are highly psychedelic such as The Holy Mountain. You mentioned the use of LSD in your autobiography The Dance of Reality with a spiritual leader in Mexico. Were psychedelics at all essential in your spiritual journey like some have claimed? You would be astonished but I only took LSD one time in order to see what it was like. I ate psychedelic mushrooms one time. That is all. I never smoked in my life. I never drink alcohol. Well, I smoked marijuana when I was selling El Topo in America in the late 1960s but that was because that was the time and manner in which I could get into those groups. It was necessary but I only did for the one month I was promoting the film. I only did so to sell my picture. And that was because America is a drug addict.

Drugs are a terrible thing and this narcotraffic is killing people. Why is narcotraffic even possible? Because America is a drug hungry nation and is sick. It’s true! You want to stop the narcotraffic stop taking the drugs America! Don’t kill yourselves! And that is all.

On the spiritual journey, drugs are not necessary and get in the way in fact. It is only a fashion. From LSD in the 1960s then it was forbidden. Now it is ayahuasca. These are just a fashion. Not true spirituality. These only produce dreams. Not a reality because that takes real work. No drugs are necessary to find yourself.

I thought that may have been the case but I was unsure as your works are adored by many that use drugs, paradoxically. Alas this is true but they do not get the real message.

My last question. You have turned 90 this year. How have you managed to live such a full life where at 90 you seem like a man 50 years younger still making and creating art? I never sold myself as I was always searching for myself. Movie making is an industry where people always sell themselves to get their movies made and make money. I never did that. I did not seek money or power. I only did art for myself and to heal.

Then I simply asked myself who can heal myself? A doctor? A psychoanalyst? No, I can heal myself. I am my own curandero (shaman). I will heal myself. And so I have healed myself for these years.

I also always kept in mind that I would die one day. I first died to my ego. Even the king of the world will be nothing one day. That I never forget.

Thank you for your time.


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98 The Aphorist

The Aphorist

In conversation with Yahia Lababidi

The best words are those that are few and to the point. — Rumi


Aphorisms carry wisdom from generation to generation with a comforting precision, like arrows shot through time. From the ancient Chinese philosophers and Sufi poets through to present day poets, aphorisms have served as a potent distillation of insight and experience for spiritual seekers in cultures the world over. The truths they transmit have a timeless quality, connecting the ancient to the present with the golden thread of universal oneness.

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Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-American poet, aphorist and essayist, and the author of six critically acclaimed books. He is best known for his aphorisms, which have enchanted readers across the English-speaking world. When asked why he thinks this is, Lababidi quotes a Persian proverb: “Epigrams succeed where epics fail.”

I believe we are living at a historical moment when the grand narratives—truth, morality, life of the spirit—seem to be failing to hold our attention or capture our imagination… aphorisms, deceptively slight as they are, do their quiet work by helping strangers (young and old) to tackle the Big Questions: how do we live, where are we heading and who we are becoming?’ This existentialism is timeless, and has also never felt more present.

As a citizen of our increasingly polarized world, I feel called upon to use my art to try and alleviate the mounting fear directed at those of different backgrounds and faith traditions. I hope my aphorisms are more than a series of personal reflections. On one level, they are addressed to general readers or lovers of language, and specifically resonate with those who appreciate pithy sayings. But, on a deeper level, aphorisms ask us to change our lives and offer moral guidance. Good aphorisms, I believe, stir thought and invite readers of sensitivity and conscience to breathe life into them, by living at a higher level of consciousness.

What was the first aphorism that moved you? Hard to say which was, actually, the very first… there were so many. Two of the early ones that moved me to my core were Heidegger’s definition of Longing: “the agony of the nearness of the distant” as well as Rumi’s “What you are seeking is also seeking you.” I found both of these strangely reassuring—a reminder that I was not alone and that the spiritual quest was a sort of dance, between two (albeit One elusive, invisible partner).

Aphorisms are how I speak to myself; they are what’s worth quoting from the soul’s dialogue with itself. Like tiny maps and signposts, I consult them in times of crises. They are the echoes of my silences, metaphysical expense reports. They are also anesthesia, how I am able to cut deeper and keep my wound clean. Beyond being poetry and philosophy, they are prayer.

What led you to use the form in your own writing? Being half-Lebanese, Khalil Gibran was an early and inescapable influence. Raised in Egypt, aphorisms (or proverbs) were viewed as common utterance and a sort of magical invocation. It was not uncommon for people in my part of the world (even if they were illiterate) to speak almost exclusively in sayings—a string of sing-songy, witty-wise remarks, for every occasion. Then, as a teenager, in quick succession I read great aphorists like Wilde, Blake, Kafka, Pascal and Nietzsche who seemed to know me better than I knew myself and served as literary/spiritual guides. More recently, I draw sustenance and inspiration from the gnomic utterances of Sufi saints and mystics—Ibn Ata Illah, for example, an important Sufi saint and sage of 13th-century Egypt, bequeathed us his treasured Kitab al Hikam (Book of Wisdom), which is composed of moral aphorisms intended to purify our heart and light the way.

Your aphorisms are playful and evade categorization in terms of content and opinion—they are often political and yet betray no set position. Even though it’s clear you are the author, you never fix yourself to a particular belief or perspective within the body of work. What is it about the form that evades being pinned down, and why is this important? Thank you, for the compliment. I think nothing is more serious than play and as a writer and thinker am relieved that my work avoids categorization, which is limiting. Aphorisms respect truths by not trying to pin them down. They realize that truth speaks in paradox and what seems like contradictions, at times, and seek to remain flexible and fluid, in turn. As I say in my book, Where Epics Fail: “With enigmatic clarity, Life gives us a different answer each time we ask her the same question.”

Also, if I might be permitted another quotation, this time by physicist Niels Bohr, here’s an aphorism of his that gets at what I’m trying to say: “There are trivial truths and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

Which of your own aphorisms has had the greatest impact on your life? It’s heartening when I see an aphorism of mine has gone viral online, or is used in a classroom setting and it helps me to better understand what resonates most. “Eye contact: how souls catch fire” I don’t believe to be my finest aphorisms, but it is fairly astonishing to me how widely it seems to have captured the public’s imagination. The aphorisms of mine that I return to often, at the moment, are: “In the deep end, every stroke counts,” and, “If our hearts should harden and turn to ice, we must try, at least, not to blame the weather.”
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98 Shaggy dog



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Shaggy dog

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A big shaggy dog
sits by a pond
and gazes at the moon.
He wants to understand the moon—
his heart is longing,

A breeze ruffles the water,
slices the moon into lines of light.
The dog shivers—
what is the moon saying?

Light rises from the water
and coils into the dog’s heart.
He lifts his head;
light flows out of his mouth.
as he and the moon converse.

Then people say:
“That dog is barking at the moon,”
and shut their doors against the light.

But the dog,
the dog has become light,
and shines with the moon
in infinite sky.

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