The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

- John 6:60-62

In a post on the Templar Wisdom blog regarding the treatment of captured Templars during the crusades  I came across the following observation:

Historian Karen Ralls claims that Saladin often reserved the nastiest post-battle treatment for the Templars and Hospitallers on account of their penchant for pain

I had noticed this the other day while reading Ralls’ work and it lead me to reflect on the conceptual barriers we encounter in seeking to understand traditional warfare. We see through eyes darkened by our present leaders and conflicts, and never guess that there could be more to the art of war than the debased sadism and chaos that we see today.

This is not to whitewash the terror of war in any age, nor to support some idealized vision of conflict. The important point to realize is that there are different perspectives that can be taken, different understandings that can help to mitigate the horror and move towards a greater understanding of peace.

In the Islamic Tradition Martyrdom is considered a gift which immediately negates all past sins, this is the same in the Christian Tradition where the “Crown of Martyrdom” or “Crown of Glory” is seen as the assurance of faith. It is an aspect of the Mystery of sacrifice, and despite what fundamentalists think today, is not an active pursuit, but something made necessary in particular situations, such as times of war or oppression.

It  should not be taken in the sense of suicide bombers who take the lives of others, or any other forms of outward violence. Martyrdom is an inward process, and a last resort. In the traditional depictions of martyrs they are faced with a situation from which there is no escape other than an affirmation of faith and an acceptance of their fate. It is the ultimate seal of patience with the horror of a world that has lost it’s central guide post.

For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – (Galatians 6:17)

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” – (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“”Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

And most specifically in the figure of Stephen, the first Martyr, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) where Martyrdom is equated with the Transfiguration.

Within this mirrored tradition  Saladin was in part honoring the Templars by making them Martyrs.

Friends on that day will be foes one to another, save those who kept their duty,” Quran Surah 43:67

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged.” Quran Surah 23:62

These verses from the Quran form a counter point to the writings of the Apostles:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? ” 1 Peter 4:13-17

Which then leads back to the Quran:

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” Quran Surah 43:61

In our contemporary understanding we have a difficult time coming to terms with this relationship to G-d, however Muhammad had nothing but praise for Jesus and the Quran is fairly explicit about the validity of his Spirit.  Stories about Saladin and Richard Coeur d’Leon outline the mutual respect that was shown between these leaders during the 3rd Crusade. This is the same level of respect Saladin was showing the Templars when he gave the the highest honor he could to those who took up arms for their faith. The brutal realities of the situation should not be forgotten, however the cultural narrative in which the events took place is important for understanding the actions.

Richard Coer d’Leon’s historical track record is not necessarily as honorable as the stories told about him,  and it is important to distinguish between the possibilities pointed to in folklore, story and myth, and the reality of war. There is, however, a sense that something has changed, today the possibility for this kind of mutual respect is greatly mitigated by the use of contemporary technology, theory and techniques.

The traditions of Chivalry in Islam and Christianity are nearly identical. Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh gives  a helpful outline of Islamic Chivalry, which shows the similarities, and parallels to, the development of this Tradition in the West:

Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by Sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

In Hinduism we can see this in the Kshatriya, or ‘warrior caste’. The Bhagavad Gita gives a succinct description of this Tradition:

Arjuna told Krishna, “Take us out between the armies.”

Krishna positioned the chariot halfway between the armies, and stopped. It was quieter there; both armies were distant; Arjuna looked out.

“I see my brothers there, my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends.”

He swung around.

“And there also, there are my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends. They are all my brothers, Krishna. It cannot be lawful to kill them. I cannot kill them. I will have no part of this action.”

Krishna answered. “There can be no blame for law-minded action, if you act with the proper dispassionate attitude. You must do the right thing, and be heedless of consequence.”

Arjuna said, “Krishna, all those people are going to die. I will not be responsible for their deaths.”

“Quite right,” said Krishna.

“What do you mean?”

Krishna explained. “We act as instruments of dharma. Everybody on this field today is working out karmic dramas that extend back through lifetimes upon lifetimes. You and I, my best true friend, have been preparing for this battle for hundreds of lifetimes. I remember every one of them. You don’t.”

Arjuna studied his friend.

“Krishna, who are you?”

And there was a flash of light, bright as a thousand suns, and Arjuna saw Krishna’s cosmic form as Narayana, one of the great gods. There, all at once, were all of the planets and all of the stars and all of the gods and all of the demons and spirits, gandarvhas and apsaras, all of the sages and saints, all of the priests and warriors, all that is and all that ever was and all that will be. Arjuna saw, and felt, endless perfect love swelling to fill the everything that Krishna had become. And he saw all the gory deeds that were ever done and the carnage that must come with time; he saw Krishna tall as mountains, black as night, his eyes blazing as he waded through rivers of blood, the mangled corpses of Duryodhana and his brothers dangling from his bloody jaws.

“Krishna, stop!” Arjuna fell to the chariot floor, his head in his hands. “Be just my friend again.”

“But you see how it is, Arjuna,” said Krishna, as he helped his friend up. “You cannot kill them, because they are dead already; their own actions have doomed them. You cannot be responsible for their deaths, because each one is responsible for his own death. In each lifetime, each one does what he has to do, and if he does it selflessly, in love of me, without regard for gain or loss, he may come finally to rest in my perfection and be free of the cycles of action and death.

So was it maliciousness on Saladin’s part that lead him to treat the Templars as he did? Or rather respect and full faith in the Divine Will outside of any temporal appearances? In exploring the second possibility there is no need for a justification of violence.  These same Traditions speak more highly of Peace than they do of war, and it would be foolish to use specific examples to put what has been taught out of necessity above what is longed for by any rational person.

These Traditions only hold true for those living within their narrative, and none of the leaders in today’s conflicts show even the slightest hint of this being the case. We are lead to mistake the contemporary secular and sectarian organizations that have assumed the outward trappings of religion for a true tradition.

Remember that John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Avila were all persecuted for “excessive piety” by secular factions within the Church hierarchy.  Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, known as Shaikh al-Ishraq (Master of Illumination) and  Shaikh al-Maqtul (Murdered Sheikh), was Martyred by Saladin’s son when he took over his fathers place.  Al-Hallaj was Martyred by Fundamentalists for the same crime as Jesus the Nazarene.

To view the Church or religion as a unity in it’s physical manifestation is to miss that the only Unity that exists is in G-d, thus Muhammed can speak in praise of the “People of the Book” and Buddhism can speak of “hidden buddhas” and “buddhas of all times and places” and Prophets in Judaism can say that the people of G-d will be taught by a stranger.

Islam means “submission” and Muslim “one who submits”, Catholic means “universal”, it’s only when we start taking secular authority and secular organizations for the truth that divisions arise due to sectarian beliefs that are inconsequential to the teachings of any Tradition. Pythagoras, Diogenes of Sinope, Aristotle, Plato, Avicennia, etc. were all accepted by Orthodox authorities within the Christian Tradition. Similarly Islamic Tradition affords the utmost respect to all people of Faith. Whether this is carried through by the fundamentalist secular organizations that assume wearing a cross or a star and crescent give them authority over the Faithful has no bearing on the reality that these Traditions speak of.

If these Traditions do not justify today’s conflict, they serve as a heavy critique for the inhuman, technologically driven, and calculated massacres that are sanctioned by the world’s leaders. These are not battles with the possibility for redemption, these are a vile continuation of the same debased logic that lead to the tragedies perpetuated in every conflict since the first World War.  The mechanical horrors of mustard gas, aerial bombings and automatic weapons have progressed to the point where we have adopted their logic into our own concept of warfare and at the end of that road lies only a cold metal abyss.

Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos, loquebar pacem de te:
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri, quaesivi bona tibi.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te. (Ps.121.)
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

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2 responses to “The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

  1. Excellent post my friend. An important reminder in this contemporary dialogue that the Traditions focus was always on the formless center and not the physical manifestations, institutions, etc. At the Bhagavad Gita excerpt, I was reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s statement on the nuclear bomb:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8H7Jibx-c0

    Interestingly in popular culture, the line “a thousand suns” was used for Linkin Park’s latest album title.

    It’s tragic that modern warfare has become so ruthlessly mindless in its mechanization, and so able to cause even greater harm. Surely an exteriorization of our material culture’s mythology.

    But blog posts like this make me hopeful, as far as the Traditions go. This aside of them has to be heard more. It is as sophisticated as it is subtle, an important reminder for the endless feuds of religion vs. secular debate with folks like Dawkins, Harris and Dennett.

    -Jer

  2. Thanks Jeremy,

    In terms of martyrdom this concept of ‘formless center’ is really interesting, since one of the meanings of martyr is witness. For me this is a very powerful meditation. Thinking of Stephen witnessing the Glory of G-d during his public lynching. His moment of vision is literally as he dies, so it is a factual witnessing of the Glory of Unity as he leaves his material, individualized, body in death.

    This further points to deeper understandings of the Socratic concept of “practicing dying”, and all of the current investigation into lucid dreaming, incubation and ASCs.

    W.S. Burroughs developed a lot of interesting pieces around Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad Gita lead to the WSB statement “When you become death, death is the seed from which you grow…” a very pointed critique at the Military Industrial complex and it’s source of energy.

    Burroughs also has another piece with some American businessmen/politicians going down to South America to make a deal with the god of death and then trying to cheat the deal, with the repercussions being the current state of Western civilization.

    It is very difficult with our cultural mindset to understand the interplay of individual choice and ideas of fate and the Will of G-d in traditional societies. These ideas seem contradictory to us, especially with the Free Will debate (another branch of the religion vs. secular war), but traditional philosophies were very capable, as you put it sophisticated, in terms of how they dealt with this complex interplay.

    Some pre-christian Northern European cultures had the practice of killing the elderly to help ease the burden of care on the society. It was dishonorable to die in bed of old age, and some warriors who made it far enough to be bed ridden would request to be killed with their sword to avoid a dishonorable death.

    In terms of the current debate on health care this seems monstrous, but it is because instituting this kind of thing in our society, where these concepts of honor and necessity are not present, would turn what was once a noble practice into cold and calculated murder.

    At the same time, although the exact practice is not valid, it is possible to look at this vision of life and to try to institute the same kind of motivation for living life to the fullest. It’s even already codified in our culture in phrases like “I’ll die trying”.

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