The twenty-ninth hymn of the Gathas of Zarathustra, recorded at a moment of intense social upheaval, enunciates the cry of the ‘Soul of Creation’, the genius of the Earth: “Wrath and Rapine, Insolence, Aggression and Violence sit upon me in my affliction. No one is my protector except Thee.”
Times have since changed again and again, and again times are changing. Moreover, change itself is changing. Change is accelerating. And again, now more urgently than ever before, for those with ears to hear, the Anima Mundi is crying out.
What is Earth’s cry today?
The population of Homo sapiens is out of control, as is its insatiable appetite for consumption. Oblivious to the sacrality of the planet and its biosphere, humans monopolize and squander limited natural resources and generate enormous waste and pollution. The largest ever mass extinction of species is already in progress. Ecological systems will be further disrupted by global warming, the results of which no one can accurately predict.
It is not only from the biosphere that humans are destructively alienated, but also from each other. Superficially, the world seems to be converging. Mass immigration, cybernetic communication, and economic unification give the appearance of a new world order. But instead of a genuine planetary civilization, we are witnesses to the proliferation of a soulless monoculture. At its heart, the human species remains as spiritually divided as ever—indeed more so, as sectarian ethnic, political and religious agendas take on a new misguided urgency in direct proportion to the absence of authentic personal and collective fulfillment.
The taproot of pathological division is in the human psyche itself. The Western mind has undergone an epic cognitive odyssey over the last three hundred years. An arc of scientific discovery and social reorganization, punctuated by deepening disavowals of received ideas, has fundamentally altered the frame of human experience. The modern individual can find no solace in acquiescence to the simple truths of tradition. Yet the Church’s modern surrogate, materialist science, lacks the visionary power and beauty of a hieratic revelation. Utilitarianism prevails: information abounds, while the question of meaning languishes unresolved and unheeded.
Stripped by education and acculturation of the capacity to actualize a meaningful mode of communion with other humans, the planet, and Reality itself, the exiled psyche has recourse to the dubious pleasures of throwaway consumption, narcissistic self-assertion, and violence—rhetorical, virtual or actual. Recoiling from the profanity of this disenchanted landscape, believers cleave with renewed zeal to ancestral faiths, threatening all who walk another path with fire and brimstone. In an era marked by the increasing availability of nuclear weapons—weapons capable of horribly disfiguring all life on Earth—to say that the stakes of ideological conflict are higher than ever before is a pale understatement. We are at a cosmic crossroads.
Pain is the living body’s natural indicator of dysfunction. Suffering indicates psychic dysfunction. The Anima Mundi’s call of distress thus contains crucial information: it critically identifies fissures in the somatic and psychic systems of the planet. Pain and suffering are potentially cathartic. The breakdown of old structures presents an opening for the emergence of a nobler reconstitution. But the moment must not be lost.
To quell the rampant pandemic of spirit-rot and breathe new life into the genius loci of our orbit a new integration is essential. The structure of this nascent paradigm, this planetary entelechy, must be enabled to cohere organically and open-endedly, protected from all manner of manipulation and exploitation. Still, its birth requires midwifery. Two processes appear as paramount. First, the sacred, prophetic and mystical traditions of the world have a moral duty to overcome their mutual hostility and unite in service to the common cause of the spiritual advancement of the human race. Second, it is imperative that a nexus of reciprocity and complementarity be established between the sacred and secular spheres of life, culminating in the crystallization of a cognitive paradigm that transcends the age-old binary opposition of reason and revelation.
Every world faith embodies in its revealed form a unique dispensation of the providential wisdom of the human experience, and hence an ennobling ideal. The sum of these ideals constitutes the spiritual heritage of the Earth-wide oikumene, the universal community of faith. It is not necessary that spiritual aspirants cease to specialize in the formal practice of particular sacred disciplines. Unity is not uniformity. What is grievously outmoded is the all too prevalent tendency of adherents of one tradition to anathematize the adherents of another.
The inevitable result is a vicious cycle of recrimination and violence. Not only peace is forfeit, but also wisdom: the wisdom of the overview of sacred history. “Beware,” writes Ibn ‘Arabi, “of confining yourself to a single belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you—indeed the knowledge of reality would elude you.” The need of the day is for the formulation of a planetary prophetology, a science of the sacred that identifies the essential lineaments of the universal revelatory impulse in its multiple historical articulations. The formation and propagation of this prophetological vision would mitigate the scourge of religious violence and restore the moral relevance and epistemological coherence of faith.
Faith and Reason
The conflict between faith and reason—the most conspicuous symbol of which, in the post 9-11 era, is the confrontation between the imaginaries “Islam” and “the West”—is symptomatic of the absence of a meaningful civilizational synthesis. The bitter antagonism of the parties of this conflict seems to mask an unconscious mutual attraction. Science is most enlightening when it quivers in reverence of the interminable mystery of the universe. Religion is most edifying when it keeps apace with the advancing horizon of human knowledge. Acute though the sense of exile may be, postmodern psyche cannot in all intellectual honesty return atavistically to a premodern acquiescence to the hallowed authority of tradition. But, as Dostoevsky writes, “Reason is only reason, and it can only satisfy the reasoning ability of man, whereas volition is a manifestation of the whole of life.”
Renewal of Volition
If true volition is the manifestation of the whole of life, its achievement depends upon the ability of the self to come to terms with the demands of wholeness. To be volitional, the self must become whole in itself, and a part of the larger whole to which it belongs. The imperative of wholeness requires the seeker of free volition to pursue a twofold path of integration. One trajectory—the vertical path—reveals the multiple gradations of consciousness that span the spectrum of immanence and transcendence from discrete personhood to pure awareness. The other—the horizontal path—reveals the imbrication of the self within an ecologically interdependent and cognitively intersubjective communion of selves.
Political, economic, and military pressure, though seemingly monumental and intransigent, pales in comparison with the transformative power of human awakening. The best, and indeed only, agent of true change is the integrated self. Personal integration, communicated intelligently, artfully, and heartfully, seeds collective integration. This is the hope for tomorrow.
By Pir Zia Inayat-Khan