Recommended reading Musa Askari’s reflection, “A Day Like Any Other” on the passing of his late mother Liaqat Begum.
The following is the Introduction to a remarkable book by the late Syed Hasan Askari entitled “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”, published 1991. It is a journey of self-discovery, inner path, a spiritual quest within & through an inter-religious dimension inspired by a vision to revive the classical discourse on Soul. This blog is dedicated to the universal, spiritual humanist vision of Prof. Syed Hasan Askari & contains various reflections from this book which is presented in seven chapters. Each chapter is known as a “Mirror”, there are Seven Mirrors.
Introduction narrated by Musa Askari
“You are now entering upon a path. As you continue your journey, you will come face to face with one mirror after another. The path and the mirrors are all inside you.
The images you see in each mirror are at times images of a discourse, at other times of one or another symbol. Sometimes a vision will open up before you. Sometimes a voice will be heard. All of it is an initiation into your own reality.
There are several straight discourses. Then there are stories. Both the discourses and the stories constitute one fabric. They intersect and interpret one another.
At times you may find certain things partly or even completely unintelligible, or vague and abstract. When you will return to them, they will gradually become transparent. You will experience an unbroken sense of inner perception even where you notice that the mirrors are veiled. You are a guest. There is an air of hospitality as you move from vision to vision.
It is now both your and my journey into the realm of the Soul. I request you to be cautious for the territory we now enter is totally different from our ordinary world. We shall be changing the habits of our thought and putting on new garments. You will notice the change in atmosphere as soon as you stand before the first mirror.
The journey begins in the name of Plotinus. We were invited by him a long time ago to make this ascent. The words, Alone to Alone, are his, and they sum up his entire call.
It was a couple of years ago one night while going through The Enneads that I had the experience of seeing in a flash all the implications of the Discourse on Soul for human thought and civilization for centuries to come. I felt within myself a convergence of the thought of Plotinus and that of my theistic faith nurtured by a consistent inter-religious perspective. The present work grew quite spontaneously out of that intuition over the last two years (1989 – 1991), and after much thought I place it into your hands both in trembling and trust, and in hope that it may ignite in your soul the same longing and in your mind a fresh zeal to rethink your conceptions about humanity, world, and God.” Syed Hasan Askari
For stories & reflections from the book Alone to Alone please click on the following titles available on this blog:
The Lord of the Humming Bird, I am that Tree, The Limit is the Threshold, The Seven Steps, Self Remembering, God is on Both the side, The Are Only Four Communities, The Feet of our Lady, Four Breaths, If You Find Me, Towards Unity, Rebirth Through My Son, Baba Nizamuddin, The Grand Canyon, The Snow The Cloud & The River, Prayer For My Parents, Seven Mirrors.
“Reflections on the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi” by Musa Askari
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen”
It was my late father, Syed Hasan Askari, who introduced me to the prayer of St Francis many years ago. My introduction came in the form of hearing it read aloud. Perhaps to come to a new prayer not by reading it first but by hearing it one is somehow able to let the prayer rest more gently upon one’s soul. Especially if hearing it read by a person one trusts. Therefore, prayer may also be understood not only as a sign of devotion but also trust between seekers of truth and greater still a sign of Trust in a Higher Power to which the prayer is directed.
To hear such words of love and devotion for the first time resonated very deeply. In the years to follow the prayer would become one among many of my constant sources of inner support. I would not only read it in silence or remember it during the course of a day but moreso I would make a point of reciting it by whispering it to myself at some late hour of the night. Through this whispering recital the prayer became more real, an experience, not only of emotional support but far beyond that to moments of experiencing the prayer as a form of being itself. That it almost had a life of its own. A life in which I was hoping to participate if only momentarily due to varying levels of inner intention and alterness.
Over and above the actual form, order and beauty of the words it is worth exploring, if only superficially through this reflection, the manner in which the prayer is working upon our inner being. What is its outer effect and what is its inner influence? What kind of inner preparation is required to utter such words as authentically as possible? If one is an “instrument” it begs the question who is the invisible artist and what is the melody that is being played? In what way, if at all, do the first and second verses talk to one another? Does a prayer stop when we have finished uttering its words of devotion and praise? Or is there a life, above our own embodied life, in which the prayer perpetually participates? Are prayers, in the form presented to us by inspired individuals who first uttered them, an echo of a far greater recital of praise and devotion that goes on above our consciousness?
Where there is an echo there must be a source from which it emanates. Where there is vibration there must be the beat of a drum. Where there is beauty there must also be the eye which recognises it as such. Where there is thought there must a thinker. And where there is a question there must be a clue or the answer complete. Is there such a question and answer present within the prayer of St. Francis? Is there any such dialogue implied between the one who prays and One to whom the prayer is directed?
At first glance perhaps not. However, if one looks more closely, at the first verse in particular, the following may be a clue where there are six question and answers present and not only that but clear intruction or remedy provided.
Take for example the line, “where there is injury,pardon”. By considering it as three lines a dialogue becomes apparent:
We ask, “Where is injury?”
The prayer answers, “There is injury”
Remedied by, “Pardon.”
Take another line: “where there is despair, hope”:
We ask, “Where is despair?”
The prayer answers, “There is despair”
Remedied by, “Hope.”
Is it not so that through most of our heartfelt prayers, either handed down by tradition or uttered by oursevles spontaneously, we somehow feel in “conversation” with the Supreme? It is into such a “conversation” the prayer of St Francis invites us to enter. In other words, consciously or unconsciously, the human soul is in constant “communication” with its Source. A Source from which it emanates and to which it longs to return. It is perhaps this “communication”, this greater dialogue, that the prayer somehow lifts the reciter innerly to become more conscious of. All great prayers take us in this direction. The prayer becomes a door into another kind of awareness.
Prayer, as both dialogue and a form of worship, is a most peculiar kind of dialogue. We are asking questions and we hear only our voice. A voice that may be frail and shaking, through some traumatic experience, or overjoyed with gratitude for what we have been shown or recevied. The answer to our prayers, however, is heard in silence. The Great Silence of The Supreme Presense, the First and the Last. The Hidden and the Manifest, everywhere and yet nowhere, Immanent and Transcendent. I am reminded of the following from an much earlier piece of writing of mine, “It is in such silence that the Divine Command is uttered perhaps”(The Sound of Silence, 1992) https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/the-sound-of-silence/
In our corporeal nature we hear corporeal things. How can the physical ear hear an answer from One who is Supremly immaterial and Beyond Being? Therefore, silence and patience become the means through which our inner ear becomes more atuned and there we may wait, atentive, alert, humble and above all listening by stilling all distraction within our lives, touching the fringes of a greater peace. Hearing as it were by another mode.
In the prayer of St. Francis we have a deeply moving dynamic where not only are question and answer co-present but also the remedy or instruction to the question. The prayer consoles, reassures and embraces all at once. There is no delay in compassion. The remedies of love, pardoning, hope, faith, light and joy are instantly provided as soon as the question and answer are complete. Infact, the prayer does not wait to be asked how one corrects the disorder within and without. It rushes the remedy towards us faster than we inhale our next breath. Life before life.
One may choose simply to reflect or meditate upon only one line of the prayer and be moved beyond measure. The question, “where is despair?” may be asked outwardly addressing the world and we are presented with images of oppression between human beings or come across testimonies of those who continue to suffer and through such images and accounts we are told innerly, “look! there is despair”. All one need do is ask the question wholeheartedly, compassionately and sadly too many answers come flooding to our consciousness of lives lived in despair. The prayer challenges to ask and notice the other and by doing so abolish otherness from our being. One need not look far to see despair if one chooses not to walk by on the other side. On the other hand the same question maybe asked about oneself to oneself, “where is despair?”. Here personal courage is needed, for now we are looking into the face of our lives and should we be able to peer with unwavering inner strenth the answer comes, “there is despair”, directing us to some long forgotten memory or unravelling chains of thought which enslave and cripple us mentally, distancing us from the world and from ourselves.
To both outward and inwardly directed questions on despair the answer is the same, “hope”. In other words, do not despair, there is hope. The very question itself is “hope”. The question carrying within itself its own liberating power. The question is hope “embodied” as a thought. The question cannot come from an abyss of utter want or lack, the question must carry with it the source which sent it on its way. As referred to previously; the prayer consoles, reassures and embraces all at once. It can only do so if it is enveloped by an inspired inspiration. In the outer form of one line, the question and answer go hand and hand, as like two hands coming together in prayer.
Further, the first verse gives us another insight. It offers a definition of “peace”. Of what “peace” means when commencng a recital of the prayer. Here peace is to love. It is also to pardon, to have faith which implies to trust, to be hopeful for the Light of the One to whom the prayer is addressed is neverfailing and our overriding inner state of such peace in that moment is to be joyful.
The prayer of St. Francis begins in the name of peace and that is perhaps why it has survived to this day and recited by so many. The human heart in perpetual quest for peace. If humanity’s “humanity” is to mean anything it must surely begin with peace regardless of it being called sacred or secular. The Russell – Einstein Manifesto (1955) sums it up beautifully, “We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.”
Would that those who wage war in the name of “peace” remember such qualities of peace as offered by St. Francis. Would that they pause and re-think in “silence” if they truly are bringing peace or the oppositie of peace which the prayer of St. Francis does not shy away from making clear. Namely, hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.
In my view the first verse is where the inner work is to be done. The first verse prepares the inner ground, turns the soil, so that we may “sow” such seeds as love and hope. Thus making the earth of our being a fertile ground from which may spring, over the ocean of our consciousness, all that the second verse leads us toward. The second verse finally frees us from enslavement to our ego-bound mindlessness. Of collective hypnosis from our exclusive one-sided attitudes to identities of race, ethnicity, culture, creed and ideology (religious or humanist).
We are in a totally new frame not only of mind but consciousness when proceeding through the second verse line by line. When the first verse has “consoled” us, “understood” and “loved” us like a kind friend or beloved. When it has enriched and pardoned us our failings. When we have been transformed within and without through the power of the first verse then, and only then, we may truly mean the words which pass by our lips of surrender from the second verse. We ask nothing for ourselves when we have been given more than could have been asked for. Now, one may recall how the prayer began, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”.
Through the discourse on soul we are told body is the instrument of soul, the material is later to the immaterial. Yet, it is not the body which seems to be the “instrument” implied when we notice how the prayer ends, “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” What other could it be that perishes, passes away, than body? And what other than soul could we speak of when we speak of life eternal? It is soul that has the right to eternal life. Only soul un-embodied remains immortal. Soul, impartible, invisible, indivisible, non-material companion of our self, both one and many at the same time.
The higher levels of the beautfiul prayer of St. Francis may only be reached when perhaps we consider the prayer to a prayer of the soul. An echo of a greater prayer that continues above our consciousness. What the words of that greater recital may be, only as souls shall we come to know. Soul, here and now. Peaceful greetings to the soul of St. Francis of Assisi.
I conclude this brief reflection with the words of my teacher:
“Pray that you are granted an unbroken awareness of your higher soul, that which is the authentic principle of your being, that un-embodied, immortal, all pervading reality, which is one and entire everywhere, every time; that which is in perpetual contemplation of the Divinity above it, that which remains separate, apart, above all you do, relate, experience and suffer as a…body here. Remember it, for it is the true source of your peace and power. Remember.” (Hasan Askari, “Pray” from his book “Alone to Alone”)
Originally published as guest article http://soul-licious.com/?p=918 Thank you to Mia Caruso for asking me to write about the Prayer of St Francis.
By Hasan Askari from his book “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”
We were driving through the Rockies. We had left Aspen behind and were climbing towards the Independence Pass. The atmosphere was clear, bright and pure. “In autumn aspen trees turn gold”, I heard my companion thinking aloud. A quick succession of seasons passed before my eyes, and I touched within me that still point around which all movements seemed to revolve.
We were now climbing higher and higher, and behind me the mountain range I could see one particular snow-clad peak, sometimes visible, then hidden, and visible again. It seemed like the glimpse of my true self – sublime, restful and serene.
All mountain peaks, something said to me then from within, are in constant communication all around the planet.
As we looked to our right we could see down below a few hundred feet deep a shining stream creeping through the valley like a silver snake. There was snow on the slopes and on the mountain tops, and clouds over them in still-slow journeying. The snow was sad, and complained to the passing cloud: “Look, Friend! I am imprisoned here, stuck to these rocks. Lift me up, and allow me to be your companion.”
The cloud replied: “Listen: The river from down below in the valley is trying to say something to you.” A sorrowful voice rose from the depths of the valley: “Lift me up. O Dear Snow, and join me with your eternal rest. I am tired of flowing endlessly.”
The snow looked with blank eyes towards the passing cloud which was now low enough to touch the snow gently and move on. The cloud said: “Do not be anxious. Our Being is one, though our stations and states are different.”
(*for more on Hasan Askari see: above tabs: “Hasan Askari” “Human Nature” & “Speech – Spiritual Humanism)
By Musa Askari 17th October 1991 – such was the feeling of expansion within my Soul as I lifted for first time “Alone to Alone” by Hasan Askari
The book is opened, A story is read, The reader leans back , And watches a mystery unfold. The book is fresh, The pages are crisp and firm, It is natural for the pages to return to their usual posture, They are strong.
As the reader leans away, A page from the left rises, As though helped by an invisible hand. At first it is a struggle to breakaway, To rise and swim against the current, But it is determined
Just past midway it comes to rest, A solitary leaf of a book stands in the middle. Then suddenly it crosses over, And comes to rest, Gently gliding down to the right of the book, As though crossing from one world to the next.
It will have to make this journey again and again, From moment to moment, For every reader that comes across it. For throughout their life the pages will re-enact this display, To remind us of the greater journey will all must make.
There are only the pages, What of the words? And of the narrator of the words
“I hear the Pima song, and my heart cries out for the nameless ones, and I repeat the words:
This is the Whiteland, we arrive singing: Head-dresses waving in the breeze. We have come. We have come. The land trembles with our dancing and singing.
They come, turn, and leave. That is the glory of the primitives’ entry into the world and their exit. We, the developed ones, the mighty ones, the proud builders of cities and starships, come to stay, stay forever. We do not understand the ecstasy of an Aztec or of a Wintu.
Ah Flowers that we wear. Ah songs that we raise. We are on our way to the Realm of Mystery.
It is above that you and I shall go. Along the Milky Way you and I shall go. Along the flower trail you and I shall go: Picking flowers on our way you and I shall go.
It was Denver that I first watched the Pow Wow, the great assembly of the Native American dancers drawn from various tribes and regions. As I waited for the Grand Entry into the hall, I first heard the starting of the drums, and as I closed my eyes and gave myself up to the beat and the rhythm of those drums I saw myself moving across an unfamiliar valley flanked by a mighty range of mountains, and I saw an eagle descending from great heights. As I opened my eyes, facing was a sight I have never seen before. The sheer variety of colour was so dazzling that it took sometime for me to conceive a meaningful picture of what I was seeing. Each dancer dressed in flowing and yet ingathered garments of such bright colours, their combinations crowned by eagle feathered head-dresses – the entire assembly appeared as a congregation of celestial birds on “their way to the realm of mystery”. Each one an individual and yet an integral part of the marching rows of dancers were now forming a vast circle with their bodies swinging and their head-dresses waving in the breeze of the drum as though saying:
We have come. We have come. The land trembles with our dancing and singing.
I knew then that “the land” was within me, that inner ground which throbbed at the touch of their dancing and singing. And I sat that afternoon watching this bewildering and enigmatic sight unlike anything I had met before. I imagined how all this wonder could be rejected by some as something pagan or explained away in terms of one or another school of cultural anthropology. I decided just to watch and to listen, and to be there co-present to what I was watching and listening. I had to admit to myself that nothing from my conceptual equipment could help me understand what I was then experiencing. I had reached the limit.
I wondered how many among those who went out to study other cultures and religions, their rites and rituals would confess to themselves that in such encounters that had reached the limit, the unsurpassable limit to their own mode of understanding. I am not in any way referring to limit as one difficulty or another in our academic study of alien cultures. Not at all. I am referring to limit as an integral and intense aspect of our experience – the point of the greatest contact with the other! It is the experience of the tangibility of the other, the feeling of having laid one’s hands, as it were, on a closed door, face to face, with its unmistakable presence, its reality. It is then that the limit becomes a threshold, a horizon upon which appears the vision, the vision of the ineffable beauty connecting the other with our own innermost mystery.
When I looked again at the colour and the dance, I knew that it was all within me. The event, though visible from outside, was taking place right within my soul. I was their vehicle as they were my vehicle. The vision had replaced the struggle to comprehend. The seer and the seen were on the way to forming a unity, the source of our presence before each other. Now my hearing and seeing and what I heard and saw all were one act: Ah Flowers that we wear! Ah! Songs that we raise!”
By Hasan Askari from his book “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision” (page 19)
“He was now ready to start on his journey. He looked sad. The old man said: “Start, my son. You have to go a long way.” He started moving towards the door. The old man raised his voice: “Do not worry that you might be robbed of your possessions. None can rob you of your self”. Then he gave him his rosary: “Keep this, or better still wear it around your neck.”
“Give me a sign for the journey,” the young man requested with a choking voice. The old man held him in his embrace, and said: “Let this reflection of the moon in the river be a sign to you. Let your self-remembering be like this reflection!”
By Hasan Askari – “Alone to Alone”