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Comparative Religion - Essay Example

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The writers of the Bible were greatly influenced by their predecessors and by the surrounding culture at the same time that they rejected much of what had been transmitted to them. …
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Comparative Religion
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The Bible, which serves as the spiritual underpinning for all of later Judaism, itself reflects Near Eastern culture and its long history. The of the Bible were greatly influenced by their predecessors and by the surrounding culture at the same time that they rejected much of what had been transmitted to them. A history of Judaism from the viewpoint of the phenomenology of religion has yet to be written. The ways in which classic patterns of myth, symbol, and archetype survive the great transformations wrought by biblical religion and reappear, mutatis mutandis, in rabbinic and later Judaism are yet to be fully traced. Judaism closely interlinked with Sufism, early Muslim religious trend. (Neusner Jacob, 3-10)
Sufism is based on a revelation that is not for esoterists only, it is necessarily linked with an exoterism together with which it forms a religion. That religion, like Buddhism and Christianity and unlike Hinduism and Judaism, is a world religion. But unlike the other two world religions, Islam is based, like Judaism, on a revealed message rather than on the messenger himself. That message is, moreover, the last revelation of this cycle of time, which means that its inner aspect, in addition to the universality that every esoterism possesses by its very nature. (Annamarie Schimmel, 177-178) The connection between pronouncing the name of God and hitbodedut, in the sense of seclusion in a special place, is already present in Sufism. The similarity of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia's approach to this subject to the Sufi system is well known, and one need not assume that this is mere chance. It is possible that he learned of this approach from his teacher, Rabbi Baruch Togarmi, who was apparently of Eastern background, to judge by the name. Sufism may also have influenced Abulafia directly, even though there is no evidence from his writings that he had any contact with Muslim mystics.
The elemental practice of dhikr ("recollection" of the Divine Names) also has this function, among many others, in Sufi doctrine and reality. Rooted by tradition in the Koranic injunction of Sura, the adept, much as the Hindu initiate repeating his mantra, recites the Divine Name(s) of Allh, or the central doctrinal formula, in order to transpose himself into a state of ecstasy. Although the names of Allh have many functions and meanings in Sufism, and in Islam more generally, in this context the purpose of dhikr is not to impart propositional knowledge, as occurs, for example, in certain of the extended theosophical reflections of Ibn Arabi, but to spiritualize the reciter. "He who remembers God permanently is the true companion of God."( Carl W. Ernst, 27) Constant recitation, later involving various acts of purification and common meditative techniques such as those of controlled breathing, had the power to alter one's spiritual condition - not to make one wiser with the wisdom of worldly knowing but different, different in one's most essential nature. "The faithful engaged in dhikr, is like a green tree in the midst of dried-up trees." (Carl W. Ernst, 197)
In kabbalistic practice one finds similar techniques. Making oneself an appropriate subject for mystical ascent is one of the many functions language serves. This type of personal transformation through the recitation of various forms of Divine Names already appears, if in an inchoate way, in Merkavah and Hekhalot sources of the Talmudic and early medieval eras. Its full development, however, is found in the high Middle Ages after 1200, being particularly notable in the ecstatic Kabbalah of Abraham Abulafia, whence it found its way into the mainstream of kabbalistic practice, especially sixteenth-century Lurianic circles, which, in turn, became "normative" for all post-1600 Kabbalah. Rabbi Isaac Ibn Latif, writing in the mid-thirteenth century, speaks of the mystical elevation of consciousness this way: "[Mystical comprehension comes] by means of the Name which is completely and utterly hidden." (Arberry A. J, vol. 1) Abulafia goes still further and, correlating various techniques of deconstructing and permutating the Divine Names - based on earlier techniques of gematria and the like - views these purely linguistic rearrangements as corresponding to the desired reconstruction of mystical knowing: "In the thoughts of your mind combine [the Divine Names] and be purified."( Scholem Gershom, 42)
Like Muslim theology and philosophy, Sufism was not a homogeneous, uniform body of tenets and practices, but an extremely ramified movement with distinct stages of development. Sufism is the direct outcome of the ascetic trend of religiosity, prevailing in original Islam itself which, later, was supplemented and enriched by foreign sources, in particular Christianity and Buddhism.
1. Annamarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimension of Islam; Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975, pp. 177-78
2. Carl W. Ernst, "The Textual Formation of Oral Teachings in the Early Chisht Sufism," in Jeffrey Timm, ed., Texts and Contexts: Traditional Hermeneutics in South Asia; Albany, N.Y., 1991, pp. 27, 197
3. Peters F.E., Allah's Commonwealth: A History of Islam in the Near East, 600-1100 A. D. New York 1973, pp. 23-26.
4. Arberry A. J., (Editor), Religion in the Middle East. Cambridge 1969, volume 1, 11.
5. Neusner Jacob, The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism; 2nd edition. Encino, Calif. 1974, pp. 3-10
6. Scholem Gershom, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism; New York 1961, pp. 38-46. Read More
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