Peace Begins from Within
Council for Parliament of World Religions
International Association of Sufism Panel
© 2004 Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.
The world religions are on the verge of a significant transition. We want to bring religious understanding and practice into harmony with the needs and consciousness of the current era. Our focus will be one of healing the split between heaven and earth, mind and body and to assure gender equality—for these are all equal in the heart of the Divine. This transformation begins with us. Our spiritual work is one of bringing peace, compassion and harmony in our inner lives and to evidence these qualities in our day to day life on earth—in community.
The mystical teachings within each religion have encouraged a journey inward in order to know peace, compassion and unity with the divine. These illuminated states have been deemed preferable to ordinary life. This has undermined our relationship with ourselves and other human beings. In particular, the Abrahamic traditions have focused more on heaven than on earth. This has not improved our human relationships. The concentration, discipline and energy used to go into inner states would be better directed towards improving human life.
This error of preference for spiritual experience over earthly existence is portrayed in Sura VII of the Holy Qur’an, which relates the story of Iblis’ (Satan’s) fall from heaven. The verse tells us that the angels were asked to bow down before Adam, the archetypal human. Everyone bowed, but Iblis who refused to prostrate himself before this human form. The Qur’an reads,
(Allah) said: “What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee?”
He said, “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.”
Iblis was created of spirit (heaven) and Adam of matter (earth). The story tells us that Iblis is cast from heaven because of his prejudice and pride—his inability to tolerate a creation different from himself. Translators have suggested that Iblis’ great love for God was the root cause of his behavior, because he did not want to worship anything other than the highest. But isn’t this the path we follow when give all of our power to our chosen religious affiliation and denigrate those of other religions? Or extol meditative states over human interactions? The story of Iblis/Satan’s fall from heaven tells us that it is wrong to place one expression of God over another. Both the human and earth (matter/that which takes physical form) are to be revered. Human and earthly manifestations are not to be rejected as inferior to spirit. We want to bring them into oneness—for each is an expression of the creativity of the Divine.
Therefore our spiritual work is to embody harmony in our personal lives, and manifest it in our relationship with ourselves and with other human beings—to heal the split between heaven and earth. This begins by healing the replication of this split within our own psyches. The preference of mind over body, one ego state over another, and any condition that adds to disharmony within the soul.
The Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah er Rahman er Raheem, telling us that the first manifestation of Allah is one of unconditional love and compassion. We manifest out of this divine breath/atmosphere. Far too often war-like phraseology is used when referring to the inner work of transforming the nafs (ego states of various levels). One must overcome, destroy, deny and so forth. We have been taught to see these inner states as enemies. When we consider that language shapes consciousness and vice versa, it becomes apparent that we are contributing to discord and war-like conditions within our own psyches. I would like to suggest that this has been conditioned by patriarchal mind-sets failing to recognize that personality transformation can occur by creating an inner state of compassion—bringing this universal love into one’s own inner being.
On a very practical level this relates to the ways we judge and talk to ourselves, because we thereby create fear, tension and oppositional states within the psyche rather than harmony. Traditional psychology points out that using negative self-talk contributes to depression. Sufis are aware that transformation occurs when we concentrate in our hearts and breathe the divine qualities into our minds and bodies—as spirit and matter/heaven and earth unite within us. This receptivity transforms inner consciousness by peace rather than by negation and force. One can reach deeper fields of infinite harmony by breathing in the compassion of the universe, and by softening attitudes and rigidities within consciousness. Working with the nafs, ego states, is a central element of the Sufis’ ongoing practice. As compassion develops within us, it extends itself to others. Christianity’s Golden Rule becomes a way of life. “Love your God with all of your mind, heart and soul and love our neighbor as yourself.”
In my experience we can also transform the nafs by paying subtle attention to the energies manifesting in our behaviors and relationships with other human beings, including the most subtle thoughts of prejudice against others. This requires attention to the neuronal and emotional energies moving in our bodies. Far too often the focus has been in the head—on one’s concepts and ideals about spirituality—as opposed to a felt bodily connection. This indepth inner work enhances our ability to perceive subtle forces and defensive motivations hidden behind our interactions and beliefs. What good is it if we can obtain some state of inner peace and awareness of the divine and then treat our relatives, friends, co-workers or any human being with arrogance, indifference or disrespect? We can achieve our inner goals for peace and harmony by bringing them into manifestation on all levels of expression.
As we breathe unconditional love and compassion into life, we attune all aspects of our consciousness with the Divine. This divine compassion, by its very nature, becomes a way of life—leaking out into the world and influencing our human relationships.
In summary, every element of consciousness has something to offer…The great Sufi master Jelaluddin Rumi tells us,
This human being is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them all at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond[i].
[i] Barks, Coleman. 1995, p. 109