Television host Chris Matthews and a distinguished panel of experts were debating the efficacy of America’s global war on terror. The commentators were Katty Kay of the BBC, Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker. Matthews asked this provocative question: “Imagine you are having coffee with a group of young men and women in their 20s and 30s in a Cairo cafe. Is there any way to change that conversation from ‘Screw the United States’ to ‘I want to go to Michigan State and get an engineering degree’?”
The panel had no answer. Why couldn’t this group of seasoned reporters offer a reply? Perhaps the best explanation is that, as Albert Einstein observed, “A problem cannot be solved on the level at which it arises.” No genuine response to Chris Matthews’ question was possible in the fast-paced world of TV journalism because our culture does not prize thoughtful, deliberate and creative solutions powerful enough to transcend the narrow bounds of fashion, habit and commercial constraints.
This steely inflexibility is the major stumbling block to bridging the gulf between cultures. In a world where hearts and minds are won or lost in the marketplace of ideas, the American culture has failed to communicate convincingly the benefits of Western-style freedom and democracy. We are losing credibility because much of the world perceives a glaring discrepancy between our words and our deeds.
When young Muslims observe the debilitating excesses that flow from the undisciplined freedoms of the West, they experience fear. They fear losing their own culture and the happiness they desire. This fear, and its consequent anger, naturally drive them to experiment with competing philosophies. Just as we do, these young people want to experience the Truth that will bring meaning and contentment to their lives.
That search for Truth, now so visible in the Middle East, is as old as human history. How the present chapter will be written depends on our ability to fashion a creative offering to ourselves, as well as to those 20 to 30 year old men and women in Chris Matthews’ fictional Cairo cafe.
Understanding Words as Pointers
In searching for the Truth that will bring us (and the world) peace, happiness and freedom from fear, we must remember that words—the medium of communication—are merely pointers. When we define any experience by giving it a name, the name is not that which is being referred to. Words are merely a useful shorthand technique for communicating complex concepts or personal experiences. Therefore, in creating a dialogue between religions or cultures, our first task is to create a common lexicon of conceptual definitions.
Neuro-scientists tell us that it is the helpful habit of the left brain to represent complicated concepts with simple symbols. Such symbols save us the time of constantly re-examining in detail what is to be communicated. However, this inclination of the left brain can be problematic. Its shorthand symbols can never explain or describe anything completely, yet, as a culture, we accept these symbols as the reality.
Zen wisdom addresses this shortcoming with the injunction, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” The saying cautions the seeker against the common trap of deifying the teapot instead of drinking the tea. The Buddha, no matter how exalted and holy, is still a concept; a limitation on the Divine. Accept this limitation and you cut yourself off from experiencing the Truth that lies beyond the word or form. In this Zen instruction, you are urged to “kill” (or surrender) the limitations that the mind imposes on that which is beyond the mind’s comprehension.
Similarly, in Judaism, there is an injunction against writing the name of G-d, and against creating any “graven images.” Yoga philosophy makes no such prohibitions, yet would agree that the reasoning is essentially sound. When the name of the Lord is written, the word is something less than the Lord. A word is a narrow human concept. The Absolute Reality includes such limitations, but also extends beyond the limitations of both the conscious and unconscious mind.
As we observe the current state of human affairs, let us not limit the concept of freedom to material, political or economic freedom alone. True freedom means freedom of thought. Independent, constructive thinking requires the freedom from prejudices, superficial beliefs, habits and superstition. The purpose of all spiritual practice is to help you transcend your limited perspectives. It enables you to use the mind to go beyond the conditionings of the mind. It allows you to see things more clearly, as they are—rather than as they have seemed.
Yogic Case for Higher Jihad
So, what will convince young men and women in a cafe in Cairo (New York, London, Paris, Hamburg, Madrid, Baghdad, Kabul, Riyadh, Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem) that their best interest is not well served through violence? The answer for Muslims and non-Muslims alike is the cultivation and practice of world-wide higher jihad.
In practical terms, higher jihad is the Muslim equivalent of Yoga Science (sadhana). According to Muslim scholars, the practice of higher jihad, like sadhana, represents the absolutely essential struggle of the individual self for perfection.
This is accomplished by resisting the temporary gratification of unskillful action (evil) and serving the perfection of intuitive inner wisdom (a.k.a. God, Allah, Christ, Adonai, Atman, Buddha or Great Spirit). In fact, the goal of higher jihad and of Yoga Science is the very same—transforming the limitations of the personality (lower self) to facilitate union with the Divine Reality (Self-realization).
But remember, words are just pointers. It doesn’t matter what word or phrase you use to name the process leading to union with the Divine. The only question is, “Have you experienced that union and the peace and freedom that flow from it?”
From a yogic perspective, the Islamic practice of higher jihad represents a philosophical framework that encourages and facilitates union of the individual self with the perfection of the Supreme Reality (Allah).
In Islam, there are two kinds of jihad: the higher jihad and the lower jihad.
Higher Jihad (Jihad Al-Akbar)
The higher jihad is an individual’s interior struggle to control one’s nafs or self-willed habit patterns of fear, anger and greed (samskaras in Yoga Science) that are in conflict with the inner, intuitive wisdom of God (Allah). Through the practice of self-discipline, the lower self (personality) is trained to serve the perfect wisdom of the higher Self as it is presented through the conscience. In fact, the word Islam means “trustful surrender to Divine Providence.” In Islam, Yoga Science, Christianity and Judaism the goal is the same: to unite mind, action and speech with the perfection of the (metaphoric) Father, or God, Who is perfect in the unseen world called heaven. In respect to those spiritual seekers who attain this state of union, the Divine Reality, in the form of Allah, says in the Qu’ran: “O thou righteous soul which are at peace, return unto thy Lord, pleased with His good pleasure and enter into the company of My true devotees. And enter thou My Paradise!” (LXXXIX:27-30).
Around 200 A.D., the Indian sage Patanjali codified the teachings of Yoga Science. Islam’s higher jihad resonates with his first enunciation that “All Yoga (union) begins with an understanding of and co-ordination of the functions of the mind.” In Islam, the conscience (known as buddhi in Yoga Science) is the final arbiter of discriminative wisdom. In Christianity, also, that arbiter is the conscience, referred to as the Holy Spirit. But again, words are only pointers to the Truth. Regardless of the words used, the undertaking is a full-time endeavor. In its essence, higher jihad means that every thought, word and deed, in every relationship, is to be a reflection of your highest inner wisdom. Just as William Shakespeare taught, “Above all else, to thine own Self be true.”
From the yogic perspective, the more consistently a spiritual seeker practices higher jihad, the more the power of old debilitating habits is transformed into strategic reserves of energy, will power and creativity. When all human actions—mental, verbal and physical—reflect intuitive inner wisdom, the concerted forces of the universe enable the seeker to fulfill the purpose of life, without pain, misery or bondage. That blissful experience is “Paradise” to Muslims, “heaven” to Christians, “Nirvana” to Buddhists, the “Land of Milk and Honey” to Jews, and “Brahman-consciousness” to Hindus—all different words for the same experience.
In 625 AD, the Muslims were defeated by the Meccans at the Battle of Uhud. During that military engagement a group of archers disobeyed orders to guard the rear, and rushed forward to get their share of booty, thinking that victory was theirs. This allowed the
Meccans to launch a cavalry charge into the opening, and they won the encounter.
But the Muslims found victory in defeat by realizing the yogic Law of Karma; the law of cause and effect. They learned what Sir Issac Newton posited centuries later in his Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal reaction. Through contemplation, they realized they had lost the Battle of Uhud because of the greed for gold. Even though their unskillful action (sin) had led them to defeat on the battlefield, the experience brought them closer to victory in the higher jihad—the inner struggle to purify oneself of habit patterns (nafs) that conflict with the conscience. The Qu’ran says in verses 3:139 and 166: “Lose not heart, nor fall into despair: for you are the ultimate victors if you are true in faith. What you suffered on the day the two armies met, was in accordance with God’s will, in order that He might test the believers.”
Lower Jihad (Jihad Al-Asghar)
The lower jihad represents a Muslim’s external struggle in support of Islam. The external struggle is not meant for the extension of boundaries, for personal glory, or for the glory of any tribe, community or nation. Lower jihad is practiced exclusively for the defense of Islam and the protection of its values against perceived injustice and oppression in the world. Such a struggle can take many forms; through the use of pen, through the use of tongue or, if necessary, through the use of the sword.
The concepts of higher and lower jihad derive from the hadith, popular traditions relating to the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad. In those teachings, Muhammad is quoted as saying to fellow Muslims returning from a battle, “You have returned from the Jihad Al-Asghar (lesser struggle). The Jihad Al-Akbar (greater struggle) continues to remain a duty with you.” When asked, “What is the greater struggle?” He said, “The struggle against one’s self (habit patterns), which is found between the two sides of your body.”
Modern Context Defines Jihad
The modern day emphasis on lower jihad, to the exclusion of the higher jihad, is an unconscious admission that the full-time practice of higher jihad is a very challenging enterprise for human beings. But those individuals who support lower jihad—without a complete dedication to higher jihad—risk viewing their relationships in an ever-changing world through the clouded vision of their own fear, anger and self-willed desire. Without the practice of higher jihad 24/7, even the most sincere spiritual seekers remain enslaved to a limited and limiting dualistic philosophy that defines everything and everyone in the world as separate entities to be manipulated, controlled or vanquished to serve the ego’s notion of what is pleasant, good or moral. This perspective eclipses, distorts and renders impotent the profound spiritual significance of higher jihad.
The philosophy of higher jihad recognizes that the essential spiritual struggle to be waged is within. This is the battle between the darkness of seeing ourselves as separate, fearful individuals and the clear light of a fearless and unerring conviction that we are essentially all One (Allah in Islam). When we forget or ignore this wisdom, our self-will compels us to fight the “other,” who we believe is thwarting our happiness. Only when the higher jihad is fought with full engagement—and won—will new battles cease to erupt both within and without. Only through the higher jihad of purifying the mind of fear, anger and greed in every personal relationship can a lower jihad be certain of its Divine inspiration.
Without the inner intuitive Truth experienced through higher jihad, no lower jihad against a perceived enemy can be fully empowered to accomplish its intended purpose.
The Real Enemy
Muslims and non-Muslims alike can experience lasting peace, happiness and freedom from fear by waging a higher jihad on the real enemies of humankind.
Who are these common enemies? Our real enemies are powerful, well-camouflaged, nefarious forces. They hide in the cover of dark alleyways—deep in the unconscious mind. They strike when it is least suspected—terrorizing humanity into taking actions based on fear, anger and selfish desire. Their relentless leader is known as ahamkara (ego). It is ahamkara and its forces of darkness that separate the individual from the whole, the spiritual seeker from Allah, and Muslim from non-Muslim. It is the cunning ego that lures humanity into unwittingly serving the misguided suggestions of the family, gender, tribe, religion, race, nation or culture. Self-will, the denial of the indivisible unity and inherent wisdom that underlies all life (Allah), is the very root of all problems. Actions prompted by self-will can never bring about peace, harmony nor the “heaven” of union.
It is only by willingly sacrificing the limitations and attachments of the ego through the persistent dedication to higher jihad that all humanity can experience peace.
The Guiding Principle of Yoga Science
From the yogic perspective, every action taken in furtherance of higher jihad must be guided by Yoga Science’s first and highest precept: ahimsa (non-injury, non-harming, non-violence). Ahimsa is the first of the yamas and niyamas—constructive observances and disciplines codified in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa is the guiding yogic principle underlying every successful relationship—within and without, subtle and gross, with others and with yourself.
In practical terms, ahimsa is the same wisdom as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you wish to have done unto you,” or as Jesus the Christ teaches, “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” The logic behind ahimsa is in total harmony with Islam: on the highest level of consciousness, there is only one Supreme Reality. From the Islamic perspective, there is none other than Allah: here, there and everywhere. Another individual with whom you have a relationship might have a separate body, mind, personality and habit pattern, but these are all subject to change. The soul, or consciousness, within each individual is part of an eternal ocean of consciousness, God or Allah—or whatever name you choose. Therefore, every person you have a relationship with is your Self (Allah). Therefore, if you think, speak or act in a harmful or injurious manner, that injury will ultimately come back upon you. The Old Testament teaches that, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” or, in modern parlance, “What goes around, comes around.” As Mahatma Gandhi always insisted, “Ahimsa is an attribute of the soul (Allah)—to be practiced by everybody in all affairs of life. If it cannot be practiced in all circumstances, it has no practical value.”
The sages of Yoga Science teach that every thought, word and action must be in harmony with ahimsa. In the practice of higher jihad, therefore, when you serve ahimsa in mind, action and speech, you automatically are in harmony with the universal law of dharma—that which maintains individual and social order by guiding humanity toward its highest destiny. Practice ahimsa and you will experience a loving, healthy, creative and productive life. If you do not practice ahimsa, the consequence will be some form of physical, mental, emotional or spiritual dis-ease or pain.
Your senses, ego and unconscious mind took control of the city of life many years ago. Yoga Science and higher jihad help rectify that situation by placing them in service to a non-local intelligence greater than the mind and a Truth that never changes (Allah). Even in the midst of a sea of change and turbulence, the wisdom of the eternal soul serves as a beacon leading you toward your highest and greatest good.
Because the present world view is limited by a dualistic consciousness that does not wholeheartedly embrace this philosophy, it may take a little effort before you’re able to practice ahimsa in every thought, word and deed. Because of habit, you may need to give yourself a great deal of patience and kindness. In fact, the successful practice of ahimsa always includes yourself. Charity must begin at home; it must include every relationship that involves you.
Yoga Science explains that in practicing higher jihad there’s nothing wrong with being selfish—if the real Self being served is the Lord of Life (Allah). If you disregard the Divine wisdom of the conscience (buddhi or Holy Spirit) and you’re not kind to your Self in mind, action and speech, you cannot truly benefit others—because there is no “other,” only Allah. When you serve the conscience and make the effort to be gentle and kind to your Self, everything and everyone benefits––including you. Even the most simple and inwardly loving actions you take toward your Self (including your thoughts) have effects more far-reaching than you can imagine. When you drop a stone into a pond, the ripples stretch to the farthest shores.
Origin of Higher Jihad
The regular, systematic practice of Yoga Science helps you remember the Supreme Reality within as you act in the world. Sustained mindfulness of your higher Self—moment by moment—frees you to serve skillfully the promptings of the conscience in mind, action and speech. The cumulative result of such continuous practice is fulfilling and nurturing relationships. This is the essential Truth of Yoga Science.
The ancient Hebrew tradition gave birth to both Christianity and Islam. The basic tenets are the same in all three. The essence of the mystical Jewish tradition, which is also the essence of the Christian and Islamic traditions, is expressed in a few verses from Deuteronomy called the Shema (pronounced shem-ah’). It is interesting to examine the Truth it states and to discover that the spiritual cores of these three spiritual traditions are virtually identical to each other, to Yoga Science and to the philosophy of higher jihad.
The scriptures of Deuteronomy say:
You shall love the Lord your God
with all you heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your might.
Through this verse, the Divine Reality issues an uncompromising commandment to the human race. “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” Christianity and Islam, both children of the ancient Hebrew tradition, share the same teaching through the words of the New Testament and the Qu’ran. In practical terms, what do these words really mean? What is love, and how are we to exhibit that love toward the Lord?
Love songs must account for at least ninety percent of all recorded music, yet their lyrics give very little indication of what love is and less about how we might offer that love to God. But the sages do give us some guidance. Love, they teach, is attention. When you truly love someone, you can’t stop giving him or her your attention. You are constantly thinking about the person––desiring to give your attention and to receive attention in return. Similarly, when you are able to maintain a continuous flow of one-pointed attention—even toward a boring, tedious or initially unattractive task—you slowly develop a fondness or love for it.
How, then, are we to give our attention, and therefore our love, to the Lord? The answer lies in our relationship with the buddhi or conscience. The buddhi is the mirrored reflection of the will of the Divine Reality. By continuously giving our attention to the buddhi and serving its wisdom in thought, word and deed, we are truly demonstrating our “love” for the Lord. This Divine request for our human attention is the basis for the angel Gabriel instructing the Prophet Muhammad to pray five times a day. Muslims hasten to their Beloved time and time again—contemplating the Divine. From a mystical point of view, God, or Allah, is the ultimate Lover and human beings communicate to the Beloved through our one-pointed attention in prayer.
Then, Deuteronomy continues:
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart: and you shalt teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates.
Through these verses of Deuteronomy, the Divine Reality is imploring each of us, “Give Me your attention!” In the midst of all your pleasure and in the midst of all your pain; while fulfilling all your duties and responsibilities; in the morning, afternoon and evening, “Remember Me always.” In the Muslim tradition this teaching is actualized five times throughout the day: after dawn but before sunrise, after the sun has crossed the zenith but before mid-afternoon, before the setting of the sun, after the sun has set, and finally in the early hours of the night (after twilight has ended).
Rituals from every tradition employ similar mechanisms for remembering the Divine Reality throughout the day—in every circumstance and relationship. For such remembrance, Muslims use prayer beads and Catholics pray with the rosary. Hindus use the mala beads or wear a bindi—a small dot between the two eyebrows. Jews place a mezuzah on the doorposts of their homes, and some wear an undergarment called tzi-tzit. Yoga scientists listen to their mantra—a word or series of words containing the name of the Supreme Reality. In Islam, the names Allah and Allahu Akbar are mantras. In Christianity, the name Jesus is a mantra.
In every moment, human beings face a choice of how we will direct our attention. In Yoga Science, the two basic alternatives are described as the shreya: serving the will of the Divine Reality as reflected by the conscience, or preya: serving the ego or sense gratifications that conflict with Divine Providence. If we can remember the Absolute Reality while making conscious choices throughout the day—every day—the sages promise that, in the process, we’ll become detached enough from the charms and temptations of the preya to serve the shreya intuitively and lovingly in thought, word and deed.
When Muslims or non-Muslims earnestly practice their own version of higher jihad, the stored power of the mantra will come forward in the midst of their decision-making process in the form of love, fearlessness and strength. When an individual faces a challenging, emotionally charged issue, the power of the mantra will remind that person to ask the question, “Who am I? Who am I who is aware of this thought that evokes anger? Who has this thought that evokes fear? Who has this thought that evokes a selfish desire? Who am I?”
The mantra is a compact prayer. Giving your attention to the mantra throughout the day demonstrates your love for the Divine Reality and creates a healthy habit in your unconscious mind. Then as you discharge your duties and responsibilities from the calm and bliss of your Essential Nature (God, Allah, Christ, Atman, Buddha), you find the strength and creativity to make choices based on Divine wisdom rather than fear, anger or greed.
Early Christians experienced this stillness of the Eternal Witness as Christ-consciousness. But no matter what name you give it, that tranquility can become the center of your universe. Give your willing attention to your mantra throughout the day and all your thoughts, desires and emotions will flow into that sea of peacefulness. All your words and actions will flow outward from that Divine contentment, leading you for your highest and greatest good. This ancient practice is what the Jewish, Christian and Islamic sages referred to as loving the Lord with all their heart, all their soul and all their might.
Why Give Attention to the Divine?
Why does the Divine Reality ask for your constant attention in every circumstance? The answer comes in the promises made in the very next verses of Deuteronomy.
And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in thy corn, and your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your field for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied.
You are actually a citizen of two worlds. You are a citizen of this material world of changing forms, and you are a citizen of the subtle world of spirit, from which all Reality flows (Allah). The real you is essentially pure consciousness, or spirit, having a human experience. To pass beyond all sorrow, you need only to cherish and serve the innate wisdom of That which is eternal, as opposed to the limited perspective of that which is transitory (ego, senses or culture).
Live in the world, Yoga Science teaches, but be not of the world. Do not let yourself be defined or limited by that which decays and vanishes. In other words, do what is to be done, when it is to be done, moment by moment—based on the wise and good counsel of the conscience (buddhi) and the grace of the Divine Reality will bring you everything you need.
The habit of questioning if and when your needs will be met is the cause of much anxiety, alienation and depression. Today, we need comfortable housing, nourishing food, serviceable clothing, a means of livelihood, reliable transportation, rejuvenating recreation and loving, nurturing relationships. The beautiful promise of Deuteronomy is the same as that of Yoga Science: all these things will come to us through grace if we let the wisdom of the Divine Reality guide our mind, action and speech in every circumstance.
All human beings—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—desire to be happy, healthy, creative, loving and nurtured to the fullest extent possible. No human being wants to live without the freedom to decide his or her own destiny, nor to live under the constant threat of humiliation, enslavement or annihilation. But freedom has a price. The scriptures remind us that “It is in giving that we receive.” Only by sacrificing the old, debilitating habit patterns of fear, anger and greed can you fulfill the true purpose of your life without pain, misery or bondage. The consistent practice of higher jihad, guided by the loving principles of Yoga Science, is the greatest adventure you will ever have. Only a complete commitment to higher jihad will bring about true liberation. But this journey is not for the faint of heart. It is only for the courageous and daring; those seekers of eternal Truth who are willing to trust and serve Divine wisdom in every relationship and every circumstance—no matter what.
So, what could you say to those young men and women in Chris Matthews’ Cairo cafe that might dissuade them from their hostile attitude toward the West? You offer them a philosophy of life that reflects their own Islamic heritage and fosters the universal Truth that the real solution to rampant violence and suspicion begins with this challenge: Change Yourself. If you can truly become the change you seek in the world, you will resolve seemingly irresolvable issues. You don’t have to wait until the other person, the other nation, or the other culture decides to change. Through the practice of higher jihad, all the possibilities of happiness are to be realized within yourself—if you are willing to trust the perfect wisdom of Allah.
The yogic practice of higher jihad can transform the destructive forces of the mind and establish peace within and without. But the practice of higher jihad is not just for Muslims. Now is the time for all religions and social movements of the world to re-examine and re-energize their yogic roots. For non-Muslims, this interior struggle of self-discipline, sacrifice, purification and union with inner, intuitive wisdom will bear names other than higher jihad. Although the words may differ, the science upon which the practice is based will be Yoga. In order to know the absolute Truth, and thereby to be free of pain, misery and bondage, every earnest spiritual seeker will ultimately practice Yoga Science—for Yoga is the science of union.
But remember, words are only pointers.
Photo credit: ©Manfred Leiter