The Confluence of Two Paths: Ismaili Gnosis and Jnana Yoga – The Start of Our Story5 min read

My best friend described finding “the one” like a game of Musical Chairs. She would say, “Sabrina, when the music stops, you marry the one you’re with.” But I think it’s more like a game of Go Fish; you keep fishing until you find your match.

The last time I went fishing, I found the mirror of my soul. The joy I felt when I first met Khalil was the same joy I had felt when I first read the Bhagavad Gita. Reflecting on that emotion, my heart had attuned itself to the vibration of coincidence – the intersection of one’s free will and his destiny. Is it a coincidence that I found the Bhagavad Gita when I was searching for essential truth and Khalil when I was searching for existential truth?

Khalil and I, individually, had spent much of our adolescence in search of the meaning of existence, a guide to the Truth, and a spiritual path towards the Absolute. We each had internalized a story that resonated with the deepest parts of our souls. He openly shared his with others, inviting them to join him in knowing reality. I solemnly suppressed mine amidst others, diverting them from seeing my inner reality.

We started at opposite ends in our first conversation, him with the Holy Quran and me with the Bhagavad Gita, trying to convince each other of the best source of Eternal Truth.

“I believe in the Living Imam, but I can’t relate to the Quran at all.” I declared. The fact that I had attempted to read the Quran, held a strong opinion, and had found an alternative solution gripped Khalil. What had him hooked is when I said, “I feel closest to God when I read.”

Khalil quickly rebutted, “But the Quran has an esoteric meaning and you’re not supposed to read it on your own as a stand-alone text.”

“But why can’t it be like the Gita – a timeless masterpiece that’s easy to read and understand?” I argued.

“The Quran is a book of symbols that have to be decoded. But wait a minute, how do you believe in the Living Imam without consulting the Quran?” Khalil seemed puzzled.

“That’s simple; the Gita talks about an ever-living guide. Shri Krishna did say, ‘I will come and mingle as a man among men…and those who are able to pierce my disguise will know me in my essence.’ Now, who do you think that is?!'” Khalil gently smiled, knowing he was in the company of a fellow believer.

But our paths are rooted in very different contexts. Khalil travels the path of Ismaili Gnosis, where the Quran is his scripture and Imam ‘Ali is his first master (see post: The Eternal Imam). I travel the path of Jnana Yoga where the Gita is my scripture and Shri Krishna is my first master (see earlier post: From Shri Krishna to Shah Karim – My Journey Home). However, like tributaries that flow into a single river, both paths lead to the same destination. The confluence of our two paths has brought us together before the Living Imam – Shah Karim al-Husayni.

I then asked Khalil what the purpose of his undergraduate studies in mathematics was since he was so passionate about metaphysics and theology. His explanation of the esoteric symbolism of numbers completely swept me off my feet. Was he a mathematician or a magician? I didn’t know. But he was clearly not going to let our conversation center on the mundane, physical world.

As Khalil transitioned into Nasir Khusraw’s notion of numerology and how it symbolizes the levels of Being, my mind summarized our common metaphysical worldview in a table (see below). He explained that God, or “Divine Essence” (what I call “Absolute Reality”) is represented by the number 0, that which has no second. It is boundless, infinite, incomprehensible and indescribable. By way of involution, from the “Divine Essence” came the first cause, the “Universal Intellect” (“Universal Mind” in Jnana Yoga) – represented by the number 1 – and subsequently, the second cause, “Universal Soul” (“Universal Energy”) – represented by the number 2. Then followed the creation of the cosmos and the unfolding of individual consciousness.

Khalil’s words were mesmerizing, as if he had secretly stolen them from the hidden depths of my soul. His explanation of Ismaili theology confirmed my Yogic understanding of how the world came into being. My inner self was leaping with joy – finally, someone found the key to my heart through my mind. Could this really be happening? How does he know me so well? How is he aware of the beliefs I’ve never shared with anyone?

Khalil matched my inner identity as an introvert, a thinker, a seeker, and a sincere student of the Spirit. He held the same card I never showed anyone else. The game of Go Fish has come to an end for me. And now we travel our spiritual paths together, inspired by Shri Krishna’s words:

With Me ever in mind, and with Me ever occupying the sacred chamber of their hearts, they are filled with a secret joy and calm content. And from within the minds and hearts of such, I constantly illuminate and inspire them, so that they are a constant source of inspiration to each other, and their inward lights combine to shine forth to the world of darkness and ignorance. – Bhagavad Gita, Part X

Just as our paths converge before universal Truth, our respective masters – Imam ‘Ali and Shri Krishna – are the mirror-like Manifestations of the same Light (nur) or Reality (haqiqah) as shown below:

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6 Responses

  1. Thought provoking insights. Thank you. reminds me of what His Highness said on 15th Oct 2010 “It will not surprise you to have me say that such an ethic can grow with enormous power out of the spiritual dimensions of our lives. In acknowledging the immensity of The Divine, we will also come to acknowledge our human limitations, the incomplete nature of human understanding.

    In that light, the amazing diversity of Creation itself can be seen as a great gift to us – not a cause for anxiety but a source of delight. Even the diversity of our religious interpretations can be greeted as something to share with one another – rather than something to fear.

    In this spirit of humility and hospitality – the stranger will be welcomed and respected, rather than subdued – or ignored.

    In the Holy Quran we read these words: “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul …[and] joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace ye became brethren.”

    As we strive for this ideal, we will recognize that “the other” is both “present” and “different.” And we will be able to appreciate this presence – and this difference – as gifts that can enrich our lives…”

  2. Ah! hi – really cool stuff here. I was thrilled by the integration of Soul/Shah-Pir spinning with Body/Father-Mother and the tribute you have paid to the DNA source, if you will, of that which gave birth to you. What’s it called? Double helix, hm?

    True bliss emerges from an developing the power to exist within the whole environment which is the crucible of brutality… (that was me inspired by how I need to respond to your pictures and some of your theoretical conception of a road to… perfection? Or have I misunderstood?)…

    I am afraid I have not reached that level of ‘gnosis’ where I can confirm that the two threads (Vedic and Ismailislamic) move along towards similar goals. I should, from my own experience, rather say that they can complement each other, for, the RigVeda and SamaVeda – especially are concerned with the sorts of preconditions for building the outer or material practices that offer sanctuary to the search. I may, of course, be quite mistaken, mind you, as Mowla knows best.

  3. Cool thoughts! Nice double helix there – Shah Pir/ Father Mother/ Soul Body… – very carefully thought out for which, thanks. I am going to make a poster for my little Saida of that one.

    My experience leads me to think that the Veda has a material angle to it which is predictable, ie, where when you reach your arm out you can pick up the glass, in contrast to the inner experience which is in the control of the attainment of the object of one’s search (success in spiritual life) through the experience of ‘ishq’ – which is not in our control.

    It follows at least for me that Veda (knowledge/ understanding) can offer the knowledge that equips one to build the sensual (physical) environment – much in the same way as ‘lobaan’ serves towards transforming the atmosphere – from wherein the seeker might strengthen his (her) ability to refine his choices in material life. Somehow, I am not yet convinced that either of these parallels can be taken to offer a vehicle to achieving the same goal. There seems, at least, to me, an evolutionary process here from one to the other, yes; but submission in Islam is difficult – in contrast to yoga which can be easy. While the latter may offer the conditions that enable concerted action towards a reversal from complete and total destruction of the environment, the former seems more sophisticated and inaccessible except through practice of ethics that look to standards that continue to evolve. Well, perhaps I have opened Pandora’s Box here but I had to say to start that conversation. Thanks for the opportunity and the window of expression.

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About the Author

Sabrina is a behavioral scientist with a background in marketing and communications consulting, who seeks to self-actualize and create social change through her work. She holds an MBA degree from INSEAD and a BS degree in Business Management from Babson College. Her interests include psychology, systems thinking, sacred geometry, and Sufi poetry.

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