“Where ever you turn, there is the face of God.” The Koran
“There is nowhere the Tao is not to be found.” Tao Te Ching
Dit sprankelende boek toont voor het eerst aan hoe de hoogste metafysische gedachten van oosterse filosofieën zich verhouden tot de beschouwende islam. Door een combinatie van deskundige analyse en persoonlijke reflectie verkent Henry Bayman de mystieke dimensies van het Soefisme, het Boeddhisme, het Taoïsme, Zen en het Confucianisme.
Hij thematiseert opmerkelijke parallellen en ogenschijnlijk onverenigbare verschillen waar het hun plaatsbepalingen van Absoluut Zijn, God, de Weg, Boeddha-natuur en het Ene betreft. Bayman laat zien hoe ieder gedachtesysteem de innerlijke betekenis van elk ander systeem kan verhelderen. Maar misschien nog belangrijker is dat hij ons laat zien hoe wij, als individu, het goddelijke kunnen (be)naderen.
“What is in the universe – that is in man.” Sufi saying
“The ten thousend things are complete within us.” Mencius
Postcript van Henry Bayman bij zijn boek (staat alleen online en is “work in progress” – laatste update 1 oktober 2015)
The “Black Pearl” or “Dark Pearl” (xuan zhu) is a symbol for the mysterious Way (Path). As the Turkish Sufi poet Harabi says, “[Only] the Wise understand this shadowy secret.” The mellow, hazy reflections from the surface give the appearance of seeing “as through a glass, darkly.” The perfection of its spherical shape reminds us of another perfection: that of God. (“God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”)
Shortly before Black Pearl went to press, my publisher called me long distance. What was the driving idea behind the book, he wanted to know.
I said, “Sufism is the culmination of East Asian philosophies.” Indeed, this had been expressed, although perhaps less directly, in the book (p. xxxii).
“What kind of culmination?” he asked. I was taken aback, for it was not immediately clear to me what he meant. Sensing my uncertainty, he clued me in: “Historical, metaphysical…?”
“Metaphysical,” I replied without hesitation. This is indeed the main thesis of the book. Toshihiko Izutsu had already made a start on this when he linked Sufism with Taoism. Nevertheless, the case had not yet been made for East Asian philosophies and religions as a whole. Having received a scientific training, I was concerned that the hypothesis should have predictive power: that it should hold up not only in cases mentioned in the book, but also in cases yet to be accounted for. Karl Popper had earlier explained that a scientific claim should be falsifiable; that it should be testable against further evidence. Hence, it was important that the hypothesis should prove to be true in the future, as well.
Table of contents
Secrets of the tea ceremony
A Sufi’s worship
Unity and its family
From nature to God
Life after death
God in East Asian culture
Emptiness or God?
Confucius : the exoteric dimension
Self-cultivation in Sufism
The end of the journey.
The Appendix on how to perform the Formal Prayer (namaz, salat) was not originally in the book. As it was being prepared for publication, an editor suggested the inclusion of such an appendix, the publisher agreed, and about two months before the publication date, I duly prepared it. When I came to the part where an extra chapter from the Koran is recited, I used the Chapter of Unity/Sincerity (Ch. 112), because of its importance and brevity.
In that chapter, the term lam yulad occurs. This is usually rendered as “has not been begotten,” but since I was looking for a concise and preferably poetic term, I used “Unborn.”
As the deadline neared, I was looking at various texts to double-check the material in the book. Then, in an article about Dogen (13th century AD), I came across the term Dogen used for the Absolute or the Buddha-nature. It was “Unborn.”
I took this as a vindication and a very auspicious sign. A sacred verse, recited universally by Moslems during Formal Prayer, was using the same expression as the Japanese Zen Buddhists! Hence, it was with a sense of gratification on my part that the book went off to the printers.
I subsequently discovered that the 17th century Zen master Bankei had likewise used “the Unborn” (Jp. fu-sho) to refer to Ultimate Reality: “All things are perfectly resolved [all dualities transcended, all problems solved] in the Unborn.” And of course, it was the Buddha who first used the term. In the aptly-named Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha says: “There is, monks, an unborn, an unbecome, an unmade, an unfabricated” (Udana, 8.3; the term also occurs in the Heart Sutra). God is the Maker, the Creator of all things, yet He Himself is not made, not fabricated. This links in with the state of la taayyun (indetermination, the state of being unconditioned) in Sufism. Likewise, He is “the Undying” (Jp. fu-metsu).
So the main hypothesis of the book still stands. Another example of this is Rinzai (Lin Chi in Chinese), a predecessor of Bankei. A term made famous by him is “the True Man of no rank,” which of course refers to the Perfect Man of Sufism. In an earlier book, The Station of No Station, I quoted from the Sufi poet Niyazi Misri: “The People of Truth possess no signs” (p. 193). The title of the book itself refers to Ibn Arabi’s expression, maqam-al la-maqam, which in Lin Chi’s terms would mean “the rank of no rank.”
For further investigation
In what follows, I shall try to tie up some loose ends of the book, add short notes, and introduce some subjects for further investigation.
One of these concerns Chuang Tzu. One thing I intentionally omitted from the book is his famous dream of being a butterfly. When he awoke, he no longer knew if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man, or a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly. Although this has obvious tie-ins with Ibn Arabi’s (not to mention the Prophet’s) concept of the world being a dream, I did not include this precisely because it is so well-known.
The Chinese term “knowledge-of-no-knowledge” has its ready correlate in the Sufi saying: “Forget all you know—transform your knowledge into ignorance.”
Mirror, Sword, Jewel
The mirror, the sword, and the jewel are ancient symbols coming from the Japanese creation myths. They are also known as the Imperial Regalia of Japan or the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. The sword stands for valor, the spirit, and wisdom. The mirror stands for wisdom, justice, the soul, and the Sun-Goddess. And the jewel represents benevolence. Sometimes, a sphere replaces the jewel.
Rice-cakes (Kagami Mochi) are made in the circular form of mirrors, and breaking them during the “Mirror Opening” (Kagami Biraki) celebration symbolizes the emergence (from a cave) of the Sun-Goddess in Japanese mythology. The act is symbolic of renewal, a fresh start, and is a cause for optimism in the new year ahead.
Let us now try to interpret the Three Treasures from the standpoint (and lore) of Sufism. What can we say about these symbols from an Islamic/Sufic point of view?
When we look in a mirror, we see ourselves—that is, our “selves.” Hence, the mirror is representative of the self. But a dirty or cloudy mirror will not reflect the light of the Spiritual Sun, which is our Source, properly. Hence, self-purification is in order. We must cleanse the mirror of our self. The mirror also symbolizes the Heart Center, for our spiritual Heart, when polished, reflects the light of the Divine.
The Prophet said, “He who knows his self knows his Lord.” As we purify ourselves, the later accretions which are not essential to us will be removed, until the mirror is spotless. This we will achieve by refraining from the two no-no’s (illicit gain and illicit sex), plus doing the one yes-yes (performing the Formal Prayer). When the process is culminated, we will see a reflection of our true self, which is the Self, in the mirror. That will also be our face before we were born. The rice-cake of our old self will split—our mirror will be opened (fath)—and will make way for the Sun to come out from the cave of our old self. That is when we will truly come to know our Essence. (“The Essence of the Real, know this, is your essence.” —Niyazi Misri.)
But this is no easy task. It means great spiritual struggle, and this is where the sword comes in. We must actively “struggle with our possessions and our selves” in order to purify the self. The sword is used to slay the dragon of the Base Self. It also symbolizes the spirit and its strength, as well as its life-force, held within the “sheath” of the body.
The jewel, or the sphere, symbolizes the fruits of our struggle. A jewel is something of great worth, while a sphere represents geometrical perfection. The sun itself is spherical, and so are pearls. (For more on the symbolism of the sphere, see “2001, 3001, and the Cube” in the collection Science, Knowledge, and Sufism.) That is, we will have become a Perfect Human Being (insan al-kamil), a self-made work of art that is as rare and priceless as a jewel. And even if we do not make the highest grade, we will still be rewarded with the jewels of Paradise, for not a single step along this path is lost or wasted.
Titus Burckhardt states that the mirror is a fitting symbol for the essence of mysticism: “it portrays the union of subject and object.” I quote from his essay, “The Symbolism of the Mirror” (in the anthology The Mirror of the Intellect):
According to a saying of the Prophet Mohammed, there is ‘for every thing a means of polishing it and freeing it from rust. One thing alone polishes the heart, namely the remembrance [Invocation] of God (dhikr Allah)’. The heart, centre of the human being, is therefore like a mirror, which must be pure, so that it may receive the light of the divine Spirit.
To this may be compared the following teaching from Northern or Ch’an Buddhism:
Just as it is in the nature of a mirror to shine, so all beings at their origin possess spiritual illumination. When, however, passions obscure the mirror, it becomes covered over, as if with dust. When false thoughts, under the direction of the master, are overcome and destroyed, they cease to proclaim themselves. Then is the Intellect illumined, in accordance with its nature, and nothing remains unknown. it is like the polishing of a mirror… (Tsung-mi)
This passage might equally well have come from a Sufi treatise.
“O God, the pinnacle of knowing – whom is unknowing.” Abu Bakr
“The further one travels along the Way, the less one knows.” Lao Tse
Another subject that could have been included in the book concerns Chinese/Japanese calligraphy on one hand and Arabic calligraphy on the other. A comparison between these had to await this writing.
One may perhaps begin by stating the main difference: East Asian calligraphy is based on ideograms, or “thought-pictures,” while Middle Eastern calligraphy is based on letters of the alphabet. To the extent that the letters can be said to embody a thought or concept, this is achieved only through their combination.
As Toshihiko Izutsu has pointed out in his immensely informative Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism (1977), Japanese painting and calligrahy reduce all colors to the basics: black and white, 0 and 1. In the final chapters of the book, Izutsu tells us that the white, unmarked canvas quite intentionally represents the Undifferentiated Absolute, while the black markings on it are intended to represent the myriad specific forms that emerge from the Absolute. Another characteristic of Chinese calligraphy is that details of the brush strokes which compose an ideogram embody the state of mind of the artist. So, an observer, after long contemplation, can achieve exactly the same state, at which point a “meeting of mind with mind” occurs where the artist and the observer are one via the identical state. This is reminiscent of the spiritual rapport between the master and disciple in Sufism.
While Middle Eastern calligraphy is not pictorial, the letters are often arranged to depict a picturesque form. This can be anything: a ship (representing Noah’s Ark), a bird (representing angels or the power of flight), a human face. The cover of my first book, The Station of No Station (2001), shows the Arabic script of “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the servant and Messenger of God” in the form of a human being (a true homo Islamicus).
Furthermore, the Names of God (beginning with the most famous one, Allah) are considered to hold the power of the Presence of God, so that visualizing the name of God in the Heart can lead to a Vision of God (ruyat Allah). (This need not be in Arabic alone: for example, the same result can be achieved by visualizing “Allah” inscribed in Latin characters in the Heart center.)
Commentaren van lezers op Amazon.com
The Black Pearl is the third book by Henry Bayman. I would like to describe it as the apex of a triangle and the other two points or corners as the two books which precede The Black Pearl (The Station Of No Station and The Secret Of Islam: Love And Law In The Religion Of Ethics).
In essence The Black Pearl is a powerhouse of light which shows us how a correct understanding of Islam (naturally coupled with contemplation and reflection) acts as/is a great mirror which reflects the highest metaphysical reaches of East Asian Philiosophies.
Whilst reading the chapter of “conclusion” I was swept away by its beauty and truth. Tears rained from my eyes and in my heart I felt a great sense of peace and happiness. Obviously I was reading something I could understand and identify with. It was a beautiful and inspiring moment.
“There Is Only One Truth”… and the chapters/subjects that precede the chapter of “conclusion” (and the appendix: how to perform a formal prayer, which in my opinion is an invaluable section) certainly informs us and helps us to understand that “There Is Indeed Only One Truth”. Here is where The Black Pearl begins. One can start to see how much in common Islam has with East Asian Philiosphies, and as human beings or more importantly vicegerents of God, we shouldn’t deny all the jewels of experience and wisdom from all the worlds religions… and this book sincerely offers us these jewels! In my opinion The Black Pearl is “un capolavoro” (Italian for masterpiece) encrusted with sparkling jewels. – Jamil Ahmed
Bayman writes in a style that makes Sufism accessible to people like me who have not had the opportunity to step outside their western culture. I related deeply to the passages concerning unity, ethics, and an energy that connects individuals. Bayman’s language, stories, and metaphors resonate easily, naturally within me as if the wisdom of this tradition is something I have known all along that I am just now remembering. In addition, the book provides a different context in which to understand eastern traditions; I found the exploration of nothingness particularly illuminating.
If I could share only one comment about my reading, however, it would be about the powerful and unexpected access to peace The Black Pearl has provided me. Throughout my reading, I felt a pervasive sense of peace unlike anything I have experienced. There was nothing contrived about this sense, nothing manufactured by me. It was…a glimpse of Truth, for lack of language. I know no words to explain it. I have never felt such a heady mix of peace, joy, rightness, love for God, love for the world, and lightness of spirit. The Black Pearl may prove a powerful mirror for those who are willing to look. – Angelique