Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sufism & Psychiatry (III)

by Arthur Deikman, M.D.

The Sufis specify that the development of man's superior capacity has its own rigorous requirements: adequate preparation of suitable students, the correct learning situation, and the activity of a Teacher  — one who has reached the goal and by means of that special knowledge is equipped to teach according to the needs of the particular culture, the particular time, historical period, and the particular person. Because of these requirements, there is no set dogma or technique that is utilized in a standard fashion: the form is only a vehicle and is constantly changing.

   "All religious presentations are varieties of one truth, more or less distorted. This truth manifests itself in various peoples, who become jealous of it, not realizing that its manifestation accords with their needs. It cannot be passed on in the same form because of the difference in the minds if different communities. It cannot be a reinterpreted, because it must grow afresh".

   Thus, Sufis differentiate their science from traditional religions, whether Christian, Judaic, Buddhist, Moslem, or Hindu, because such religions have solidified around set rituals, forms, exercises, and dogmas that tend to be handed out to everyone regardless of the content end individual differences. According to Idries Shah, even organizations designated as Sufi Orders may undergo this. . crystallization into priesthood and traditionalism. In the originally Sufic groupings where this fossilization has indeed taken place, their fixation upon a repetitious usage of Sufi materials provides a warning for the would-be Sufi that such an organization has 'joined the world"'.

   We have examples of this problem within the field of psychiatry, itself. In Freud's time, for example, the Vienna Circle was open to all who had sufficient interest and capacity to participate, regardless of what formal degrees or titles they possessed. Today, the American Psychoanalytic Institute will not accord full membership to anyone not possessing an M.D., even though the functional relevance of a medical degree for the theory and practice of psychoanalysis can scarcely be discerned. A similar stiffening, sclerosing process seems to invade every human organization. With this in mind, we can understand the Sufic contention that religions were initially based on the development of a higher form of perception but, inevitably, they became ossified, lost their capacity to function in that way, and now persist as archaic structures, hollow shells good only far fulfilling social and emotional needs.

Furthermore, most "mystical experiences" are regarded by the Sufis as being primarily emotional and have little practical importance  — except for the deleterious effect of causing people to believe they are being "spiritual" when they are not. Self-deception is at work in such cases and blocks progress toward the development of higher perceptions.


   "Sahl Abdullah once went into a state of violent agitation, with physical manifestations, during a religious meeting.

   Ibn Salim said: 'What is this state?'

   Sahl said: This was not, as you imagine, power entering me. It was, on the contrary, due to my own weakness.'

   Others present remarked: 'If that was weakness, what is power?

   'Power; said Sahl, 'is when something like this enters, and the mind and body manifest nothing at all'".

   The ordinary man is said to suffer from confusion or "sleep" because of his tendency to use his customary thought patterns and perception to try to understand the meaning of his life and reach fulfillment. Consequently, his experience of reality is constricted, and dangerously so, because he tends to be unaware of it. Sufis assert that the awakening of man's latent perceptual capacity is not only crucial for his happiness but is the principal goal of his current phase of existence it is man's evolutionary task. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, stated this explicity:


   "You have a duty to perform. Do anything else, do any number of things, occupy your time fully, and yet, if you do not do this task, all your time will have been wasted".


   "Originally, you were clay. From being mineral, you became vegetable. From vegetable, you became animal, and from animal, man. During these periods man did not know where he was going, but he was being taken on a long journey nonetheless. And you have to go through a hundred different worlds yet".

   According to the Sufis, only with the knowledge that perceptual development brings can human beings know the meaning of human life, both in terms of the particular events of a person's life and the destiny of the human race.

   "Once upon a time there was a city. It was very much like any other city, except it was almost permanently enveloped in storms.

   "The people who lived in it loved their city. They had, of course, adjusted to its climate. Living amid storms meant that they did not notice thunder, lightning and rain most of the time.

   "If anyone pointed out the climate they thought he was being rude or boring. After all, having storms was what life was like, wasn't it? Life went on like this for many centuries.

   "This would have been all very well, but for one thing: The people had not made a complete adaptation to a storm-climate. The result was that they were afraid, unsettled and frequently agitated.

   "Since they had never seen any other kind of place in living memory, cities or countries without some storms belonged to folklore and the babbling of lunatics.

   "There were two tried recipes which caused them to forget, for a time, their tensions: to make changes and to obsess themselves with what they had. At any given moment in their history, some sections of the population would have their attention fixed on change, and others on possessions of some kind. The unhappy ones would only then be those who were doing neither.

   "Rain poured down, but nobody did anything about it because it was not a recognized problem. Wetness was a problem, but nobody connected it with rain. Lightning started fires, which were a problem, but these were regarded as individual events without a consistent cause.

 "You may think it remarkable that so many people knew so little for so long.

   "But then we tend to forget that, compared to present-day information, most people in history have known almost nothing about anything and even contemporary knowledge is daily being modified  — and even proved wrong".

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