The Knower and the Known


The Knower and the Known

“(...) God is everywhere, visible to those who see by the light emanating from his beautiful face. He is ahead, and all men follow, holding his hand. Those friends of God who are behind, as well as those who walk ahead, have given news of arrival at their destinations.

When they become self-aware like Adam, they may reveal news of the Knower and that which He knows.

One of them dove into the ocean of Oneness and said, 'I am Truth.'

Another rode in a boat on the same ocean, and told of how far he was from the shore.

One looks at the outside and talks of dry land, while gathering shells,

and the other plunges into the ocean and gets the pearl.

One starts talking about the bits and parts of things, how they appear and function,

Another begins telling of the Eternal One and then of the creatures who live and die.

One speaks of long curls of hair, the beauty spot, the curves of her eyebrows, the beloved man in dim candle light, passing a goblet of wine.

The other speaks only of himself and his opinions.

And the other loses himself in idol's of love, identifying himself with the monk's rope around his waist.

Each one speaks the language native to the level he has reached, and it is hard to understand what he says.

You the seeker of understanding, you must strive to learn the meaning of what they say.”

| from the Gulshan-i Raz, by Sheikh Mahmoud Shabistari, 1317 CE

So who will we be? One of the many mentioned above, or ‘the seeker of understanding’ to whom the text speaks - the one who learns the meaning of what each one of the others see?

There is no judgement here, no good or bad, first or second. Whether we walk behind the Godhead or ahead of Her/Him, it is of no significance. The one who dives into the ocean, who rides the boat, who walks on dry land; they are all of equal value to the Great Work we call life.

We are a closed circle of beings, each one of us manifesting different parts of divine creation. We each have arrived at our destination; now we open our eyes and see, and speak, and experience. And no two of us will ever see, speak or experience the same: The mystic dives into the ocean and becomes one with it. The cartographer builds themselves a vessels and measures the shores. The dualist sees the conflicting forces at work underneath, and knows how to harvest their powers. The adventurer holds their breath and looks for pearls; to them the ocean is peril. The engineer is blind to being, but at awe with its functions. The scholar has read about a thing called waves and tries to hear their ocean sound on paper. And so the circle expands - each one of us seeing a different side of creation, and each one of us finding our own way of creating meaning from what we see.

On our magical (or mystical) path it can be hard to maintain clear orientation. Are we behind the Godhead, or right next to Her/Him? And where are the people around us, in relation to Her/Him and ourselves? To address this problem, many traditions have invented gateways, that are meant to mark out the journey we are on. The most well known ones in the West might be the degrees of Masonry or alternatively the degrees of the Order of the Golden Dawn, mirroring the ascent on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. The problem of any such gateways (or experience badges as we should probably call them) is that they introduce an entirely human and non-divine aspect into our journey: that of measuring our own progress against others, and in fact, of considering progress itself a valid quality on our path. This especially is problematic when our journey becomes more of a mystical than a magical one; i.e. one that focusses more on the first-hand experience of Divinity, rather than on acquiring a broad diversity of skills in manipulating its energies within creation.

The story above is taken from the “Rose Garden of Secrets", a collection of poems written in the 14th century by Sheikh Mahmoud Shabestari. It is considered to be one of the greatest classical Persian works of the Islamic mystical tradition known in the west as Sufism. The poem is addressed to the seeker of understanding. Their position relative to all other people mentioned in the poem is no higher or lower; yet their numbers are few and have been few throughout time. The difference between the seeker of understanding and the others, is that the latter are all looking down at their own business of drawing meaning from creation. Only the seeker of understanding is looking up into everyone’s faces - seeing the living circle they all form together, precisely by engaging with the world in so many diverse ways.

Our ability to expose ourselves to Divinity in unconstrained ways differs greatly. Of course, we can change and alter it, should this be our chosen business. Some of us are ready to walk into it openly and without any kind of ceremony, like a simple step forward in the present moment. Others of us, we need to shield our eyes and often our hearts from such boundless vastness. Yet we all make a contribution from where we stand. We are building a house together, not by what we say, but by forming a circle with our spirits. It is the business of the seeker of understanding to always be conscious of this circle, to keep it alive - and to hold it together as a co-worker of Divinity.

P.S. As a magician walking the Quareia path you can get a first-hand impression of the ‘house’ mentioned above. Just visit the Inner Library and walk past its endless shelves, and see the myriad of creatures walking with you, or sleeping in the living books or upholding the substance of its walls. It might raise your gaze to the circle you form a part of. It will take your breath away. It also might change your business, into better understanding the ocean of otherness and oneness we are surrounding by at all times.