Literary Reading: The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada” — By Shiraz Pradhan

The Seeker’s Path and Role in Quest for Higher Reality

Man has within his heart an innate desire to transcend the world of matter and seek the spiritual. This is because he perceives in the material life an impermanency. As a result he tries to seek permanency in the spiritual. This desire for spiritual understanding is strong in some; in others it is weak or even dormant. The aim of religion is to awaken and strengthen this quest for a higher Reality and Permanency. In the mystical branches of all religions, a man’s search for higher Reality (within himself) is described as an ‘Inward Odyssey’.

In Sufic language, a man who searches for such a higher Reality is called a salik (seeker, traveller on the path). He advances by stages (maqamat) along a path (tariqa) to the goal of union with Reality (fana-fil Haqq, that is, dissolution in Truth). During this inner journey or pilgrimage his consciousness expands. He begins to discover levels of consciousness beyond the normal wakeful states, until he, by the Grace of God, is raised to the highest planes of consciousness—the stages of haqiqat (Reality) and marifat (Gnosis; which is to know God by God – ‘araftu Rabbi-bi-Rabbi).

The route of this inner journey is uncharted. No two persons will share identical experiences during this journey. However, amongst the seekers a notion is perceived that it is a journey of ascent; of rising from the lower to the higher planes and that these planes correspond to levels of consciousness.

In many branches of Islam, and particularly in the esoteric teachings found amongst Sufi groups and within the Shia Ismaili Tariqa, it is firmly believed that it is possible by religious and spiritual practices to provide the ‘requisite stimulus’ to awaken and experience these potential levels of consciousness. However, there are a number of disciplines that have to be followed before a salik can experience these higher levels of consciousness. Foremost amongst the disciplines are:

(i) Purity of thoughts and action
(ii) Fulfilling all religious obligations
(iii) Implicit faith and trust in God

A salik who steadfastly fulfils these requirements naturally develops in his heart an attraction for God; a longing for God possesses his heart. This is the maqam (stage) at which he begins to practise meditation and seek nearness to God. This represents the beginning of the ‘Inward Odyssey’.

Ginanic References to Meditative Techniques and  Cerebro-Spinal Centres (Kamals) Ingla, Pingla and Bhamar Gufa 

Ismaili Ginanic Literature relates the spiritual experiences of Ismaili Pirs. The Ginans describe in considerable detail the meditative techniques used as an aid in this journey and also the path, the important milestones and inner cosmology corresponding to the different stages (maqamat). However, it is important to recognise that all these signs, milestones and the inner cosmology described by Pirs in the Ginans correspond to lower planes of consciousness, for Pirs emphatically state that the experiences of higher spiritual maqamat are not describable in rational language to people who are not initiated in the tariqa (path) and who have not experienced the maqamat themselves.

Two Ginans which I will quote to develop this theme are “Sakhi Maha Pada” by Pir Sadardin and “Bhrama Prakash” by Pir Shams Sabzwari. “Maha Pada”  is unique in that it mentions meditative practice based on breath control, as is evident from reference to Ingla (Ida), Pingla and Susamana which are the nerves or conduits of life-force associated with the spinal system and are linked with the regulation of breathing.


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