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Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Cultural Histories
 1441122141, 9781441122148

Table of contents :
Part I Introduction
1 Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices
Technical controversies
Varieties of devotional practice
Technical aspects of devotional practices
Part II Judaism
2 Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation
No classical Hebrew meditation?
Earlier interpretation
The present study
Philological indications
Textual artefacts in classical Hebrew tradition
Literary traces of classical Hebrew meditative practices
The Qumran ‘Book of Meditation’
Concluding remarks
3 Mystics without Minds? Body and Soul in Merkavah Mysticism
Persons without minds
Merkavah mysticism
Looking within
The deposition of Rabbi Ne.uniah
The seal of the Merkavah
Understand with wisdom
Meditation without mind?
4 Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah
Cordovero and Kabbalah
Cordovero’s meditation
The parts of Jewish worship
Cleaving to God: Cordovero’s description of the event
Silence and clouds
Unity of shema
Adonai ascent
First blessing
UbaLezion and demons
5 Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice in Kabbalah and Hasidism
The sixteenth-century kabbalistic brotherhood of Isaac Luria
The Jerusalem fellowship of Bet El
The Hasidic ‘school’ of Yehiel Mikhel of Zlotshov
Contemplative visualization in other religious traditions: Islam and Buddhism
Contemplative love of others in Buddhist tradition
Part III Christianity
6 Meléte in Early Christian Ascetic Texts
Meléte in lists of ascetic practices and virtues
How Meléte was performed
The content of ‘meditation’
Summary of the use of Meléte in early Christian monastic texts
Comparison of Meléte in monastic texts and in Greek philosophical texts
7 The Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation in Greco-Roman Philosophy1
Meditation and Jesus prayer in early monasticism
Meditation in Greco-Roman philosophy
8 Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition
Meditative practices
The character of meditation
Meditation and the mystical experience
9 The Pathless Path of Prayer: Is There a Meditation Method in Meister Eckhart?
10 Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices of ‘Representing’ Christ in Prayer
Background to Teresa’s teaching on prayer
Teresa’s teaching on prayer in the Castillo Interior
Discussion: The evolving sense of ‘representation’
11 Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation: Louis Richeome’s Painting in the Mind
La Peinture Spirituelle
Mental pictures (tableaux) as devotional exercises
Ekphrasis: A rhetorical technique exploited for devotional purposes
A course in the form of a mnemonic promenade
Christian meditation and antique rhetoric
Meditation moulded by, or exploiting, rhetoric?
Catholic theology, ekphrastic images and theories of ‘seeing’
12 Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation in Orthodox Christianity
Some tensions in contemporary Byzantine spirituality
Approaching the immaterial
Life and formation
From Combattimento spirituale to Aoratos Polemos
Hesychastic prayer as meditation
Part IV Islam
13 Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer
Varieties of Dhikr
The rules of Dhikr
Simnani’s hierarchy of visions and colours
Dhikr as practice
Dhikr between meditation, prayer and performance
14 Movement and Stillness: The Practice of Sufi Dhikr in Fourteenth-Century Central Asia
The practices
Dhikr and the authority of masters
Dhikr and meditation
15 Music and Remembrance as Meditation: Sama‘ in the Indus Valley
The progressive prevalence of Sama.
The growing role of breath in the process of remembrance
From Sama. to Dhamal: Constructing an alternative
Part V Science
16 The Natural Science of Meditation: A ‘Black Box’ Perspective?
The black box
Increasing scientific and popular interest
No common definition
No scientific definition
Suggested scientific definitions
Lack of scientific explication
Challenges of scientific explication

Citation preview

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Also Avaliable from Bloomsbury Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism, Moshe Idel PB: 9780826496669 HB: 9780826496652 Mysticism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Paul Oliver PB: 9780826421203 HB: 9780826446169 History of Modern Yoga, Elizabeth De Michelis PB: 9780826487728

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam Cultural Histories Edited by Halvor Eifring


Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA Bloomsbury is a registered trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2013 © Halvor Eifring and Contributors, 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Halvor Eifring and Contributors have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Authors of this work. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury Academic or the authors. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. eISBN: 978-1-4411-2608-5 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Meditation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam : cultural histories / edited by Halvor Eifring. pages cm ISBN 978-1-4411-2214-8 (hardback) – ISBN 978-1-4411-6258-8 (epub) – ISBN 978-1-4411-2608-5 (epdf)  1. Meditation–Christianity.  2. Meditation–Judaism. 3. Meditation–Islam.  I. Eifring, Halvor, editor of compilation. BV4813.M415 2013 204’.35–dc23 2013025921 Typeset by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India

Contents Acknowledgements






Part I  Introduction 1 Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices  Halvor Eifring


Part II  Judaism 2 Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation  Terje Stordalen 3 Mystics without Minds? Body and Soul in Merkavah Mysticism  Michael D. Swartz 4 Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah  Alan Brill 5 Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice in Kabbalah and Hasidism  Lawrence Fine

17 33 45 61

Part III  Christianity 6 Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts  Per Rönnegård 7 The Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation in Greco-Roman Philosophy Henrik Rydell Johnsén 8 Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition  Serafim Seppälä 9 The Pathless Path of Prayer: Is There a Meditation Method in

79 93 107

Meister Eckhart?  Jeffrey Cooper 10 Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices of ‘Representing’ Christ


in Prayer  Mary Frohlich 11 Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation: Louis Richeome’s Painting in


the Mind  Judi Loach 12 Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation in Orthodox Christianity  Augustine Casiday

153 173



Part IV  Islam 13 Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer  Jamal J. Elias 14 Movement and Stillness: The Practice of Sufi Dhikr in


Fourteenth-Century Central Asia  Shahzad Bashir 15 Music and Remembrance as Meditation: Samā‘ in the


Indus Valley  Michel Boivin


Part V  Science 16 The Natural Science of Meditation: A ‘Black Box’ Perspective?  Svend Davanger Notes Bibliography Index

227 237 263 281

Acknowledgements The conference that was the starting point for this book was made possible by generous support from the following institutions: Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, Taipei Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo PluRel, University of Oslo Kultrans, University of Oslo The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, Oslo The initial planning of the conference and the book took place during the five months the editor spent as a guest researcher at Research Center for Monsoon Asia, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, in 2009. The conference took place at the Acem International Retreat Centre Halvorsbøle, Oslo, Norway, in May 2010. In addition to the editor, the organizing committee included Svend Davanger and Terje Stordalen, both from the University of Oslo. The following persons helped in the organization of the conference or assisted in work relating to the book: Wubshet Dagne, Yue Bao, Regina Cinduringtias Pasiasti, Torbjørn Hobbel, Stig Inge Skogseth, Alexander Lundberg, Guttorm Gundersen and – last, but not least – the editor’s patient and loving wife, Joy Chun-hsi Lu. Comments from three anonymous reviewers, as well as the staff at Bloomsbury Academic, were also of great help in developing the manuscript. The editor would hereby like to express his deep-felt gratitude for all the kind support from these persons and institutions, as well as others who have offered help along the way. Oslo 15 April 2013 Halvor Eifring

Preface This collection of chapters on the major traditions of meditation within Judaism, Christianity and Islam seeks to plough new ground in a number of ways. First, it focuses on meditative practice, not just the intellectual and sociocultural contexts surrounding it. Second, it departs from earlier studies in bringing the various meditative traditions of the so-called Abrahamic religions together in one volume, providing opportunities for comparison. And third, it makes some first attempts at viewing these traditions in a global perspective, looking at both generic and historical connections to practices in South and East Asian traditions. The book may be profitably read along with a forthcoming volume on Asian traditions of meditation, also edited by me. The meaning of the term ‘meditation’ has changed radically due to the increasing popularity of Asian techniques and the growing interest in scientific research on meditative practices. It is no longer obvious that the term fits traditional Christian and philosophical meditatio, which was always content-oriented rather than purely technical, not to speak of other Christian, Judaic or Islamic forms of prayer and contemplation. This volume may be seen as a first attempt at redrawing the map, providing a place and a space for both traditional and modern practices. The book starts with a comparative chapter discussing some characteristics of meditative practice within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It ends with an chapter reflecting on the modern secular culture of meditation linked to science. In between, there are four chapters on Judaism, seven on Christianity, and three on Islam. While making no claim to comprehensiveness, the volume covers a large variety of recitation and visualization techniques, affective forms of meditation and so-called unmediated practices. Halvor Eifring

Contributors Alan Brill Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair of Jewish-Christian Studies Department of Religion Seton Hall University Shahzad Bashir Lysbeth Warren Anderson Professor in Islamic Studies Department of Religious Studies Stanford University Michel Boivin Senior Fellow Centre for South Asian Studies CNRS-EHESS Augustine Casiday Honorary Research Fellow School of History Archaeology and Religion Cardiff University Jeffrey Cooper Assistant Professor Theology Department University of Portland Svend Davanger Professor of Neuroscience Institute of Basic Medical Science University of Oslo Halvor Eifring Professor of Chinese Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages University of Oslo Jamal J. Elias Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies University of Pennsylvania

Lawrence Fine Irene Kaplan Leiwant Professor of Jewish Studies Mount Holyoke College Mary Frohlich Associate Professor of Spirituality Catholic Theological Union of Chicago Judi Loach Interdisciplinary Research Professor in the Humanities Cardiff University Per Rönnegård Research Fellow Centre for Theology and Religious Studies Lund University Henrik Rydell Johnsén Research Fellow Centre for Theology and Religious Studies Lund University Serafim Seppälä Professor of Systematic Theology and Patristics School of Theology Philosophical Faculty University of Eastern Finland Terje Stordalen Professor of Theology Faculty of Theology University of Oslo Michael D. Swartz Professor of Hebrew and Religious Studies Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures The Ohio State University

Part I



Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices Halvor Eifring

University of Oslo

The meditative practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are not primarily technical in focus, but rather thematic, scriptural and devotional. There are even voices in these traditions that see techniques as a threat to individual faith, personal devotion and divine grace. Still, Halvor Eifring argues that most of these practices make heavy use of technical elements. After making a rough classification into recitation, visualization and unmediated practices, he discusses the technical features involved in each. He also points out, however, that more purely technical practices, such as body and breath techniques, awareness practices and non-semantic or aniconic meditation objects are not part of Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions, possibly because they threaten each religion’s claim to exclusive possession of the truth.

In a modern, comparative context, meditation may be defined as a self-administered attention-based technique for inner transformation.1 The meditative focus of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, however, is not primarily technical, but rather thematic, scriptural and devotional. Within these traditions, there are even voices that have been explicitly critical of techniques, suggesting that they may lead the individual away from orthodox teachings, true devotion and divine grace. In this chapter, I shall argue that most of these practices still have clear technical features. Their focus and religious justification may lie elsewhere – in their thematic content, scriptural foundation and devotional qualities  – but they also make use of technical elements to achieve their goals. Often these elements are given symbolic and religious rather than technical interpretations, and they are always viewed from within doctrinal logic and cultural and religious fields of meaning. However, part of their impact on body and mind lies in general psychobiological working mechanisms that are not restricted to the meaning universe of each individual religion. In this sense, therefore, I shall argue that many Judaic, Christian and Islamic practices fall within the definition of meditation cited above, in spite of their


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

thematic, scriptural and devotional focus. Our definition reflects the more technical orientation of modern popular notions of meditation, which are undoubtedly influenced both by the popularity of Asian meditative practices and by the growing body of scientific meditation research, both of which tend to have a technical focus. Still, this definition does not exclude content-oriented practices, whether under the name of meditation, prayer or contemplation, as long as they also involve technical features.

Technical controversies The technical features of meditation have been, and sometimes still are, at the centre of controversy. In 1989, for instance, the Vatican sent a letter to all Catholic bishops comparing ‘impersonal techniques’ like Zen, Transcendental Meditation and Yoga to the devotional and relational aspects of Christian prayer and meditation. The letter, which was signed by Cardinal and Prefect Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) and approved by Pope John Paul II, makes clear that ‘method[s] of getting closer to God’ cannot be ‘based on any “technique” in the strict sense of the word’, and that techniques ‘can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God’.2 The letter also attacks the ‘experience’ orientation that comes with many technical practices, and makes clear that the fight against it is not something new. On the contrary, some ‘false fourth-century charismatics’ within the Church itself are said to have mistaken ‘the grace of the Holy Spirit with the psychological experience of his presence in the soul’, thus ‘bring[ing] down to the level of natural psychology what has been regarded as pure grace, considering it instead as . . . “experience”’. The Vatican letter represents the culmination of reflections on an issue that had been around for some time. Many Catholic circles had embraced practices influenced by Japanese Zen3 and by Transcendental Meditation or other forms of Indian mantra meditation.4 Though popular, such practices were and still are deeply controversial and often attacked for their ‘technical’ approach to meditation, prayer and contemplation: ‘[God] is not one to be manipulated as one can manipulate a machine or appliance.’5 Protestant churches had also commented critically on new forms of meditation based on or inspired by ‘eastern’ techniques. In 1979 the bishops of the Norwegian State Church issued a statement called ‘Modern Meditation Movements and the Church’.6 The letter expressed fear that the new forms of meditation were not ‘neutral, purely technical methods to a renewal of one’s life’, but represented a ‘direct influence from foreign religions’. They attacked Transcendental Meditation for its initiation ritual, personality cult and Hindu-inspired rhetoric, and even the Norwegian organization Acem, which placed meditation in a secular psychological perspective, was, for unknown reasons, accused of eventually leading to ‘a pantheistic understanding of reality’.7

Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices


In the Orthodox Church, the technical and experiential aspects of the Jesus Prayer had created controversies before the modern influx of Asian practices. The anonymous Russian author of The Way of a Pilgrim quotes a Polish steward who says: They tell me .  .  . that [the Philokalia] contains odd sorts of schemes and tricks for prayer written down by the Greek monks. It’s like those fanatics in India and Bokhara [Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan] who sit down and blow themselves out trying to get a sort of tickling in their hearts, and in their stupidity take this bodily feeling for prayer, and look upon it as the gift of God. All that is necessary to fulfil one’s duty to God is to pray simply, to stand and say the Our Father as Christ taught us. That puts you right for the whole day; but not to go on over and over again to the same tune. That, if I may say so, is enough to drive you mad. Besides, it’s bad for your heart.8

The ‘schemes and tricks’ (strannye fokusy) to which the Polish steward refers are in effect the technical aspects of this form of prayer, and the repetition of the words ‘over and over again to the same tune’ (besprestanno ladit’ odno i to zhe) is one of the technical features that he sees as causing both mental and physical illness. The ‘tickling in their hearts’ (shchekotanie v serdtse) and the ‘bodily [lit. natural] feeling’ (natural’noe chuvstvo) is the experience produced by this prayer technique and, according to the Polish steward, misinterpreted by practitioners as God’s grace. Christian scepticism towards technical approaches is also discussed in several contributions to this volume, most notably the East Syrian emphasis on developing a meditative attitude rather than providing clear-cut technical methods and Meister Eckhart’s ‘pathless path’ and his statement that ‘[w]hoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God’. Like many aspects of Islamic and, in particular, Sufi practice, the recitation of dhikr has been surrounded by intense controversy. On the one hand, there have been fierce debates concerning the specific technical features of dhikr, including the use versus non-use of chanting, music, drums and dancing, the question of silent versus vocal and individual versus communal practice, the uses of body and breath and the relation to a master (shaykh). On the other hand, some general problems of technical practices have also been pointed out. Techniques may stimulate a certain mechanistic lack of attention, a ‘blind repetition . . . without understanding its true meaning’,9 which is the opposite of the ‘remembrance’ that is the professed purpose of dhikr. Technical practice has also been criticized for stimulating a self-serving attitude seeking ‘worldly aims’10 rather than religious salvation. Finally, and perhaps most seriously, techniques may undermine the authority of Islamic scripture and law by providing alternative sources of religious knowledge, in particular ecstatic rapture, revelations and mystical visions, as when one dhikr-practising Sufi master is said to have had ‘certainty of faith’ though he ‘rarely recited the Qur’ān’,11 or when it was claimed that contravention of Islamic law is permissible for adepts who have reached higher stages of mystical development.12 One critic admits that dhikr brings the soul ‘closer to the gnosis of God’, but finds it

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam


problematic that similar techniques produce more or less the same effects in Christian, Hindu and other non-Muslim ascetics.13 In sum, both within Christianity and Islam (and possibly Judaism), some critics have expressed fear that technical practices may lead the individual believer away from orthodox teachings, true devotion and divine grace. As we shall see, however, this does not mean that Judaic, Christian and Islamic practices have been devoid of technical elements.

Varieties of devotional practice Apart from Davanger’s contribution on the secular meditative culture associated with modern scientific research, this volume explores selected practices from the three big monotheistic and scripture-based ‘Abrahamic’ religions originating in the Middle East, as outlined in Table 1.1. The following discussion is largely based on the chapters referred to in Table 1.1. The practices discussed may be roughly divided into three types: recitation, visualization and unmediated practices. Recitation dominates the Early Hebrew practices as well as those of the Desert Fathers, East Syrian and Orthodox Christianity and Sufism. Such recitation may be vocal or silent, and its content may span from the repetition of a single word or phrase to the recitation of an entire book, most commonly including a prayer or a passage from a religious or philosophical text (in particular sacred scripture). Visualization is also widespread, in particular in the Judaic and Catholic traditions, but also in the practices of the Desert Fathers and East Syrian Christianity, as well as Sufi methods for creating a spiritual bond with a master or shaykh. The visualized object may be static (such as a cross) or dynamic (such as events of religious significance), concrete or abstract (the latter including the ten sefirot ‘emanations’ of Kabbalah), religious or more generally existential (as in some meditations on death). In many cases, methods of visualization involve a wider form of imagination, including but not restricted to the sense of vision. Table 1.1  Meditative traditions covered in this volume Religion


Contributing author


Early Hebrew (pre-Judaic) Merkavah Kabbalah Hasidism

Stordalen Swartz Brill; Fine Fine


Desert Fathers East Syrian Catholic Orthodox

Rönnegård; Rydell Johnsén Seppälä Cooper; Frohlich; Loach Casiday



Elias; Bashir; Boivin

Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices


Unmediated practices include, in the present context, attempts to reach towards God without employing tools such as recitation or visualization. God is beyond language and images, which need to be left behind. This approach is found in many mystical traditions – in our volume most prominently in the discussions of East Syrian Christianity, Meister Eckhart and the higher forms of prayer of Teresa of Avila. In Orthodox Christianity and Sufism, the preference for recitative practices rather than visualization is also motivated by a wish to avoid tainting the Godhead with products of our own imagination, much like the unmediated practices. This distinction into three main forms of meditative practice is, of course, a gross simplification. In some cases, it is difficult to know how to categorize a given practice, as in Merkavah mysticism, which may look like a form of visualization or imagination, but which may not have understood itself in those terms. In other cases, we have mixed types, as when recitation and visualization are combined in Kabbalistic practice, or when recitation is conceived as leading to unmediated contact with God in Orthodox Christianity and Sufism. It may also be possible to single out a fourth type of affective practice. This category might include the contemplative focus on spiritual friendship in Kabbalah and Hasidism, the affective prayer of Teresa of Avila, in which she focuses on the feelings evoked by the presence of Christ or God, and (in a move away from the personal emotions of the practitioner) the mystical orientation towards God’s love in several traditions. Worth noting are the types of practice that are not represented in this volume, or perhaps in these traditions at all. Most obviously, although both body and breath are highly present in many of the practices discussed, they are not the main focus of attention. In several recitative practices, such as Sufi dhikr and the Jesus Prayer of the Desert Fathers and Orthodox Christianity, the breath is often used as a vehicle through which the words are enunciated, but the focus is on the words, not on the breath. Likewise, in Sufi dhikr both the physical body and the ‘subtle’ or ‘mystical’ body provide a space within which recitation takes place, by directing different syllables to specific body parts, but again the words and not the body are the main focus. The same applies to the guiding of the Jesus Prayer into the ‘heart’ (which is both a physical body part and a spiritual space) and the use of bodily movements (stretched hands, beating of breast, raised eyes, deep sighs, repeated prostrations, crossed arms above the head, moving of head back and forth, etc.) as aids for prayer. To my knowledge, Judaic, Christian and Islamic practices do not include body and breath practices similar to the ones found in Indian haṭha yoga and prāṇāyāma and in Chinese tàijí and qìgōng. Less surprisingly, perhaps, there are also no awareness practices of the type often associated with Buddhist meditation (but also found in other Indian traditions), such as the directing of the attention towards spontaneous thoughts or sensations, or towards the whole field of perception. In Jesuit visualization practices, there is a strong focus on developing a ‘gazing’ awareness towards inner images, but eventually the focus lies on the meaning and message of the images rather than on the awareness as such. Even within the fields of recitation and visualization, there are no practices in which the focus of attention does not dwell on semantic, thematic or symbolic meaning. While Indian mantras are often seen as influencing body and mind by virtue of their form rather than content, this is not the case with the formulas repeated in the recitative

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam


practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And while the geometrical figures known in Indian traditions as yantras are usually rich in symbolic meaning, more advanced stages of meditation are often seen as relating directly to their aniconic form rather than their metaphorical content,14 in contrast to the mostly concrete objects of visualization in Judaic and Christian practices. Even the highly abstract visual representation of the ten sefirot within Kabbalah depends on a symbolic (and thus meaning-based) interpretation for its effect. The thematic, scriptural and devotional focus of most meditative practices in Judaism, Christianity and Islam has made methods that work purely by virtue of technical form rather than semantic or symbolic content seem less relevant. Within these traditions, body and breath techniques, awareness practices and non-semantic objects of recitation or visualization would make little religious sense, in contrast to meaning-based recitation and visualization, as well as unmediated practices.

Technical aspects of devotional practices In spite of their thematic, scriptural and devotional focus, I shall argue in the following sections that even Judaic, Christian and Islamic meditative traditions employ a variety of technical elements to support and accentuate the devotional content of their practices.

Technical features In the terminology used here, the following elements typically characterize a technique: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

It is a deliberately undertaken practice aiming to produce certain effects. Its procedures are specified with some degree of clarity. It is clearly set aside from other activities in time. It is continuous – repetitive or durative – rather than sequential. Some or all of its effects are based on general psychobiological working ­mechanisms.

The first point is unproblematic. All the practices discussed in this volume are deliberately undertaken, unlike many of the everyday social practices typically studied by sociologists or anthropologists. Furthermore, they all aim at producing some kind of immediate, short-term or long-term effect. The effects most frequently described are immediate or short-term, but long-term effects are also mostly understood to follow, as presupposed by the term ‘inner transformation’ in the definition of meditation cited at the beginning of this chapter. This definition also requires the practice to be selfadministered, the practitioner him- or herself being the one who feels its effects. In this volume, the only exceptions are the Sufi music and dance performances known as samā‘ and dhamāl, where the performers aim to draw the audience towards contemplation of God.

Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices


The second point applies in varying degrees to the practices discussed in this volume. This is not only because our written sources are often less than clear about the procedures for meditative practice. Traditions also vary in the degree to which they find clearly specified procedures helpful, as reflected in Meister Eckhart’s statement that ‘[w]hoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God’ and in the East Syrian mystic Isaac of Nineveh’s criticism of an attentiveness to details that leaves no room for divine activity.15 In most cases, however, the basic outlines of the meditation methods described are reasonably clear, even if they allow for spontaneous and creative elements. The third point also applies in varying degrees. In early Christianity and Islam, recitative practices sometimes aim at ‘unceasing prayer’ in a literal sense, in which case they may accompany daily activities, often though not always as a silent, mental practice.16 Thus, one of the Desert Fathers recites aloud a biblical verse and meditates on it while weaving ropes; another does so silently while walking to church. More often, however, both recitative and other meditative activities take place in time slots specifically set aside for meditation or prayer. The fourth point applies to most of the practices described in this volume, but not all. In this context, the term ‘continuous’ refers to the same activity being performed over a certain time-span, as opposed to sequential practices, where different activities follow each other in a given sequence, as in many rituals and prayers. Continuous practices also allow for change, as when a phrase recited or an image visualized becomes more blurred and/or more intense as the practice proceeds, or when the practice is interrupted by spontaneous thoughts. The basic volitional activity, however, remains the same. When recitative practices are continuous, they are repetitive, the words or phrases being repeated, vocally or mentally, again and again, as in the Jesus Prayer and in dhikr. For this to work, the text recited cannot be too long, and East Syrian cases in which the entire Book of Psalms is recited in a single session can hardly be considered continuous in this sense. The same may be true of some Early Hebrew practices, though there we have less information to go by. When visualization practices are continuous, they are durative, the image produced being held continually in mind, as when a Sufi focuses on the image of his master or shaykh, or when an East Syrian mystic keeps his mind on the image of the cross. This is most obvious in cases where the object of visualization is static; dynamic images of, say, events from religious narratives may be less obviously durative. There are also in-between cases, particularly when the image as such is stable, but the attention of the practitioner moves from one part of the image to another, or from one perspective to another, as in the ekphrastic exercises practised by Jesuits. The visualization of the ten sefirot in Kabbalah is even more complex, not only implying the movement of attention from one sefirah to another but also involving the manipulation of the image itself, raising one of the sefirot up to the position of another and making the entire system fall in on itself like the folding of a telescope. Unmediated practices are also durative by nature, since they consist in continually directing one’s attention towards God.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

The fifth point is most complex, and brings us partly beyond the limits of cultural history in a narrow sense. We can envisage at least three types of explanations for the effects of meditative practice: 1. General psychobiological working mechanisms. 2. Suggestive impact of meaning elements in or surrounding the practice. 3. Supernatural factors, such as divine intervention or magic transformation. An example of the first type is Herbert Benson’s relaxation response, which he claims is automatically triggered by the gentle repetition of a word or a non-semantic mantra.17 An example of the second type is Livia Kohn’s explanation of visions of specific deities as resulting from the suggestive impact of visualization techniques, in a kind of autohypnosis.18 Many meditative cultures are more likely to use the third type of explanation, referring to supernatural factors such as God’s grace or, in some cases, magic. Even within the traditions, however, the effects of meditative practice are sometimes discussed in more naturalistic terms, either referring to general mechanisms or to the impact of semantic meaning. In the following, we shall look away from supernatural factors and consider the first two points above.

Technique versus meaning The main difference between the two types of working mechanism lies in the role of semantic meaning. Suggestive aspects of meditation use semantic elements to direct body and mind towards given goals, while aspects of meditation that build on general psychobiological working mechanisms do not depend on semantic meaning for their effects.19 The borderline is not absolute, since the two are often combined, and since even suggestion presupposes certain psychobiological mechanisms for its effect, but the main outline of the distinction is clear. While most meditative practices in Judaism, Christianity and Islam are suggestive in the sense that they focus on semantic, symbolic, thematic or affective content, they also usually involve technical features that build on general psychobiological working mechanisms. Consider the use of repetition in recitative practices. Although the words or phrases recited almost always have semantic content, the act of repeating does not, or at least not always. It is a technical element, which has an influence on body and mind beyond the meaning of the words or phrases recited. To the extent that the effect of repetition is a topic at all, various meditative cultures may focus on different aspects of it, such as its positive impact on quietude and concentration and its ability to bring recitation from an act of will to an almost internalized and near-spontaneous, ever-present impulse. At times, it may also be given near-semantic interpretations, as an expression of the urgency, persistence and determination of prayer, or as a help to ‘ruminate’ on its content. Repetition may involve a mixture of technical and nontechnical elements. Next, consider the effect of sound in recitative practices. While this volume contains no clear examples of non-semantic recitation, several traditions emphasize the effect

Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices


of hearing the words recited, not just seeing them written or thinking about their meaning. The fixedness of a given phrase is also a technical feature, which in the case of the Jesus Prayer emerges gradually over the centuries. Sufi dhikr goes one step further in fixedness, not allowing translation of the phrases recited (as in the case of Sanskrit mantras). In some cases, the understanding of the meaning is not even seen as necessary, as when a Desert brother complains that he does not understand the words of the prayer he is reciting, but is told to keep on, since ‘the demons listen in fear and flee’ (they presumably understand). In Sufi dhikr, semantic speech is sometimes reduced to what sounds like meaningless sounds or syllables, such as an exhaled ‘grunt’ standing for Hu, meaning ‘He’ (referring to God). Even strongly meaning-based recitative practices, therefore, sometimes come close to ribbing their words of semantic (and at times even phonetic) content. Now consider the contrast between vocal/audible and mental/silent recitation. Both often co-occur in the same traditions. Mental recitation is seen as more advanced than vocal recitation both in the melétē of the Desert Fathers and the dhikr of the Sufis, and such mentalization may be seen as another technical feature. Some Sufi masters see silent dhikr as helping the practitioner to reach the inner heart, to develop the inner senses, to obtain inner light and to open the door to the unseen, eventually reaching God, whereas vocal and audible dhikr comes in the way of these effects. In other cases, however, silent recitation is preferred for moral rather than technical reasons, since vocal recitation may stimulate ostentation, showmanship and vainglory and is therefore seen as unlawful by some Sufi schools. Finally, consider the length of the text recited. The idea of monologistos (one-phrased) prayer lies behind the development of the Jesus Prayer. Brevity facilitates repetition, which again helps to keep the mind focused. The fourteenth-century English work The Cloud of Unknowing goes one step further and suggests that prayer should consist of ‘a short word, preferably of one syllable’, ‘a word like “god” or “love”’ (or, on the negative side, ‘sin’). This is partly to express, in a near-semantic way, the urgency of the prayer, like a person threatened by fire calling out ‘Fire!’ or ‘Help!’ But it is also in order to internalize the prayer and make it ever-present: ‘. . . fix this word fast to your heart, so that it is always there come what may.’ And again, the brevity of the prayer will make it suitable to counter distraction and keep the mind focused: ‘[w]ith this word you will suppress all thought under the cloud of forgetting,’ and ‘it is prayed with a full heart, in the height and depth and length and breadth of the spirit of him that prays it.’ Such a prayer ‘pierces the ears of Almighty God more quickly than any long psalm churned out unthinkingly’.20 Similar considerations apply to visualization. In Jesuit ekphrasis, for instance, visualization is used suggestively to increase the sense of identification with scenes from Christian scripture or history. However, there is also a specific interest in the technique of mental ‘gazing’ and the instrumentalization of mental processes. Similarly, the Sufi visualization of a master or shaykh is used suggestively to create a spiritual bond to him, but would hardly have had this power if it were not for a more general impact such visualization has in leaving behind mental traces in the mind. This mechanism is at work even in practices focusing on non-semantic visual impressions, such as certain forms of Indian trāṭaka.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

I have mentioned the supportive role of breath and body above, and these may have both technical and symbolic (and hence semantic) functions. In early Christianity, as in Late Antique medicine, the breath is seen as a technical element providing a link to the physical (and thereby presumably also the spiritual) heart. At the same time, the breath is also used metaphorically to denote anything that we cannot live without.21 Most of the body movements accompanying meditative prayer in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including stretched hands (sometimes crossed above the head), beating of breast, raised eyes, repeated prostrations, swaying back and forth, stamping of feet, dancing and whirling, etc., have symbolic meaning. But when a dhikr practitioner is said to move his head back and forth only because his master has told him to, without understanding why, we are closer to a technical element. And when the phrase recited in dhikr is moved from above the navel to the right side of the breast and then over to the left side and to the physical heart, this is understood as a technique for directing the energy of the word Allāh to the physical heart in order to burn all its desires and enter the spiritual heart and its light of faith. Though couched in culture-specific terms, this may also be seen as a technical effect resulting from the movement of the meditation object between different body parts. The pressing of the tongue up against the palate is also primarily a technical element. Unmediated practices may be understood either as suggestive ways of entering into the very core of the meaning universe of each individual religion, or as nonsuggestive ways of reaching beyond all linguistic and symbolic meaning, towards an ineffable divine reality that happens to be referred to as ‘God’ (with all the cultural implications of that term) in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but which may have different designations (with different implications) in other contexts. In the latter case, we possibly have to do with techniques, though unmediated practices are often surrounded by a strong scepticism towards techniques, as in the case of Meister Eckhart. In addition to recitative, visual and ‘unmediated’ meditation objects, technical elements also include mental attitudes and concentrative versus more free-floating uses of attention. Some traditions, like East Syrian Christianity, emphasize this aspect of meditative practice more strongly than other details of technique. The transition from early Greco-Roman practices to the prayers and meditations of the Desert Fathers may illustrate the contrast between the technical form and devotional content of meditative practices. To a large extent, the Desert Fathers inherited the form of the Greco-Roman practices, but filled it with the content of their Christian religion.

Conclusion In sum, most Judaic, Christian and Islamic forms of meditation have a thematic, scriptural or devotional focus, but still make use of technical elements. It might be tempting to link this fact to some of the features shared by the so-called Abrahamic religions. Thematic and scriptural meditation might be linked to the

Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices


revelatory status of sacred scripture, while devotional meditation might be linked to a strict and exclusive monotheism. However, a comparison with the two other main areas that have given birth to large meditative traditions, South and East Asia, shows that thematic and scriptural practices are not restricted to religions with revelatory sacred scripture, and that devotional practices are also common in non-theistic and polytheistic contexts. For instance, Buddhism (which is largely non-theistic) has its thematic contemplation of dead bodies, scriptural recitation of sūtras and devotional invocation of Amitābha Buddha; Hinduism (which has non-theistic, monotheistic and polytheistic variants) has an equally broad range of practices; and Sikhism (which is monotheistic) shows a strong devotional and recitative focus in its remembrance of the divine name (nām simran). The most striking fact about meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam may not be the strong presence of thematic, scriptural and devotional practices, but the virtual absence of more purely technical practices. In contrast, South and East Asian religions include a number of practices that are more clearly technical in orientation, such as body and breath techniques, awareness exercises, as well as non-semantic mantras and aniconic yantras. As we have seen, so-called impersonal technical practices have been met with scepticism within Christianity and Islam, possibly also Judaism. As alternative sources of insight and knowledge they may be perceived as threats to doctrinal orthodoxy; by building on technical and impersonal working mechanisms they may be seen as coming in the way of personal devotion; and their focus on selfeffort is sometimes conceived as coming in conflict with the concern with divine grace. In the end, meditation techniques that are not unequivocally framed within the meaning universe of Judaism, Christianity or Islam may be experienced as threatening its claim to exclusive possession of ultimate truth, a claim less often encountered in the religions of South and East Asia.

Part II



Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation Terje Stordalen

University of Oslo

In this chapter, Terje Stordalen explores meditative practices in the classical Hebrew traditions, in particular the various forms of recitation associated with hagah, śichah and a few other terms. These terms refer to a large spectre of psychophysical activities stretching from reading or recitation, via memorization, reflection and understanding, to contemplation and meditation. This wide semantic field reflects a general tendency within the culture to perceive body and mind as a continuum, and to see physical speech as a representation of mental thought. Classical Hebrew meditative recitation foreshadows the strong focus on sacred revealed text in the meditative traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in contrast to Eastern traditions of meditation, which are not as strongly dominated by such a textual focus. A number of issues remain to be explored, such as the degree of individual effort involved in these practices, as well as the kinds of inner transformation that they seek to bring about. Stordalen also discusses a number of reasons why these practices are so often ignored in mainstream accounts of classical Hebrew religion.

No classical Hebrew meditation? Readers of classical Hebrew literature occasionally come across terms that in historical dictionaries of the Hebrew language are listed with the sense ‘meditate’ or ‘meditation’ as part of their semantic range – notably terms like hagah or śichah.1 These references are not very numerous, but some of them occur in theologically salient passages of the Hebrew Bible, such as Josh. 1.8 or Ps. 1.2. Still, mainstream accounts in theology or religious studies of the history of meditation in Western culture do not include classical Hebrew material. For instance, the entry on Christian meditation in the authoritative (Protestant) Theologische Realenzyklopädie starts with the Latin practices and only briefly relates any Hebrew and Greek background (Nicol, 1992). Similarly, neither the Anchor Bible Dictionary, nor the Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period – both of which featured Jewish scholars in


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

editorial positions – have entries on meditation (or cogent lemmas). Also, the survey of meditation in the religious studies dictionary Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe does not discuss ancient Hebrew meditation. This apparent disregard for the classical Hebrew material needs to be explored within the framework of cultural histories of meditation, like the present one. Potentially there seem to be four different reasons why references to meditation in classical Hebrew sources would have been left out of studies of meditative practices, and four corresponding requirements for current research. 1. One conceivable reason would be hermeneutical. Research on ancient religion is never completely detached from the current forms of that religion. If meditation was not a major practice in the versions of Christianity or Judaism known to the people who researched classical Judaism, perhaps they did not see any significance in some scattered references to meditation. If this were the case, critical scholarship clearly should try to re-examine the relevant material, now also in view of the popular interest in meditation, which seems largely inspired by a new awareness of Eastern meditative traditions. That, of course, corresponds to the project of this volume. 2. A second conceivable reason relates to the history of the sources for ancient Hebrew religion. It is now commonly accepted that Jewish religion towards the beginning of the Common Era included a number of religious practices and beliefs that came to be regarded as unorthodox by the sages of later periods.2 Certain sources and practices that were part of the religious texture of Second Temple Judaism would have disappeared during these later phases. If Jewish meditation were a part of practices that were forgotten or redefined, scholars attempting to recover early meditative practices are facing a very difficult source situation. So critical scholarship needs to work through whatever available material there is, relate it to its potential historical texture and remain aware of the reconstructive and hypothetical nature of such an enterprise. 3. A third conceivable reason for not noticing classical Hebrew references to meditation relates to the complexity of the concept ‘meditation’ in current everyday and scholarly speech. The semantic range of classical Hebrew terms like hagah or śichah included much more than what is today referred to as meditation (see below). Jens Braarvig has argued that the concept of meditation in contemporary scholarship is influenced by East Asian thought.3 We have, of course, little possibility to investigate empirically the practices named by hagah and śichah or the concepts evoked by such terms. It is very difficult to identify and verify potential classical Hebrew meditative practices: already the rendition of these terms in historical dictionaries may be biased. A critical investigation would have to pay serious attention to historical semantics, and to remain aware of its indebtedness to contemporary concepts and speech. 4. As a last possible reason for not considering meditative practices in classical Hebrew religion, some scholars would assume that there exists such a thing as meditative mental states – even though such states cannot be scientifically documented.4 These states would not need to be ‘the same’ in every tradition,

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


but there would have to be some cluster of characteristics that serve to identify meditative states and distinguish them from other mental states. Given that mental states may be visible in written reflections of a given historical practice, scholars might argue that the mental stages named by the Hebrew terms hagah or śichah were not ‘distinctly’ meditational. It seems to me this is a position likely to have been taken not only by those who study the classical Hebrew material but also by those who discuss the phenomenon of meditation based on East Asian material. This position, however, needs to be critically reviewed. The choice of this volume’s editor to focus on meditative practices rather than mental states opens to engagement with a broader material, which seems to fit well with the four requirements for research sketched above. It might in time also challenge common assumptions about what might qualify as meditation. I would therefore approach the Hebrew material with an open mind about what counts as meditation, but also be aware that the relevance of the investigation towards a global history of meditation needs to be negotiated in view of the larger material. On this basis, let us review some earlier readings that challenge the view that meditation was not practised or not important in classical Hebrew religion.

Earlier interpretation In contrast to the scholarly sources referred to above, popular Christian discourse does not hesitate to identify meditative practices in the Bible. A Google search for pages holding all three words of ‘hagah’, ‘bible’ and ‘meditation’ produces nearly 59,000 hits – and this harvests only English-speaking sites using conventional transcription of the Hebrew verb.5 For now, suffice it to say that while this material testifies to popular interest in meditation in the Bible, it does not and could not address the research requirements above, especially those in points 3 and 4. Let us move on, therefore, to scholarly discussions that elaborate the same interest within the obligations of historical philological scholarship. Time and again Hebraists working with individual biblical verses and expressions have pointed to meditational practices as probable referents for a number of biblical words, expressions and statements.6 These scholars, however, were not aspiring to give a systematic discussion of classical Hebrew meditative practices. As a result, relevant finds remain scattered, without systematic interpretation, and apparently without leaving a lasting impression on general views of classical Hebrew religion. A second group are the handful of works that explicitly address the phenomenon of meditation attempting to show that biblical Hebrew literature reflects meditative practices. Primary representatives for this group would be Franken, 1953 (with a focus on the Book of Psalms) and Kaplan, 1978 (with a focus on prophetic literature).7 This literature adequately addresses the issue of semantics. Kaplan, for instance, notes the semantic range of the root hagah, stretching from thought and reflection to inarticulate growling, murmuring and speech (pp. 111–18). However, he tends to regard the spectrum from classical to Medieval Jewish language, thought


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

and religious practice as continuous. Midrashic, Kabbalistic and Hekhalot language and literature is used to describe practices also in the biblical world. Both Kaplan and especially Franken worked with fairly broad definitions of ‘meditation’, including for instance mystic and ecstatic techniques, or ‘prophetic experience’, dreams and visions. While these books contain interesting material and important insights, they do not address the range of research requirements mentioned above, especially not points 2 and 4. Another notable study is that of Augustin, 1983. Working from a more restricted scope he reviewed the semantic range of hagah across biblical Hebrew literature and found that it denoted unarticulated uttering with the quality of lament as well as of praise, and that late biblical passages like Ps. 1.2 use the word to denote meditative recitation of what he took to be the whole (Hebrew) Bible. This is fairly close to views earlier taken also by Hans-Peter Müller (see note 6). Similar synthesis, shorter and semantically less integrated, occur in Negotiă and Ringgren, 1978.8 Summing up, classical Hebrew literature reflects practices that modern readers understood as meditation. In Hebrew these are named in ways that associate them to some kind of oral performance. Biblical scholars seem not to have discussed the relation of such practices to meditation in other religious traditions, and also not what place such practices might have had in classical Hebrew culture and religion.

The present study The task is first to revisit the historical semantics of certain terms and provide a provisional perception of the practices they named. Secondly we must explore literary and archaeological indications that could reflect such practices. Thirdly, if the survey indicates a presence of meditative practices in Judaism of the Second Temple period, we would need to ask what might have been the place of such practices in ancient Hebrew religion at large? This last question can for the moment only be touched upon, while the first two will be addressed more thoroughly. The provisional definition of meditation assumed for the following is this: meditational practices and techniques that are habitual within a given culture, they are self-administered, they are characterised by some sense of mental focusing and often by monotonous gestures, and they aim on achieving what the meditating person might describe as inner transformation.

This definition is informed by the one provided by Halvor Eifring in the introductory chapter of this volume. As compared to his definition, mine puts more emphasis upon meditational practices being formulated and transmitted through the cultural historical record, which opens up a variety of trajectories. The definition allows for bodily constituents in the practice – without denying a mental component. I aim to discuss a wide material without closing the question of what should and what should

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


not in the end count as a meditative practice. Still, the provided definition means that for instance ecstatic techniques or prophetic dreams would not qualify. The philological method is strictly historical, limited to classical Hebrew language, literature and religion.9 While I have a preference for semantic over etymological data, I recognize that given the limited linguistic base available for classical Hebrew, etymological evidence is also important. Since linguistic evidence is limited, the archaeological record is important too, but it is crucial to treat the literary and the archaeological records as distinct. The primary literary sources remain the biblical records, but one must also consider classical Hebrew literature like manuscripts from the Judean Desert, the Hebrew version of the Book of Sirach, etc. All such literature was the product of high literary competence in a world where not much more than five per cent would have been practically literate – and fewer would have had the propensity to write or read the kind of literature now available from the period. There is every reason to doubt that religious practices reflected in the literary corpus should have been representative for the entire population. Classical Hebrew religion probably housed religious practices that by accident, by habit, by religious censorship or otherwise are not plainly reflected in the available record.10 The current aim is therefore not to provide a final survey, but to establish the reasonability of further exploration into ancient Hebrew meditative practices.

Philological indications Before reviewing the most important material, two general points need to be made. 1. Mental phenomena named through associated objects: A number of classical Hebrew terms refer in one segment of their semantic profile to meditative practices. Utterances employing these terms often combine a reference to some mental activity (reflection, consideration, perhaps meditation) with a reference either to its external prompt (a text, a story, the law, etc.) or its bodily expression (speech, lament, etc.). This is not coincidental: biblical Hebrew language generally refers to physical objects or external events to name mental or psychological phenomena. This is evident for instance in biblical language on human sentiments: psychological strength is named by referring to the heart, spirit is called wind or breath, etc.11 Hence, one must expect that biblical language could refer simultaneously to meditative practices and to prompts or focalizations that were prominent in such practices. 2. Speech and thought: Several relevant terms span semantically from mental to oral practice, naming for instance both speech and reflection/meditation. Western languages tend to regard speech and thought as distinct. Modern dictionaries translating biblical Hebrew into Western parlance accordingly construct a number of distinct semantic domains for the Hebrew stems. However, the modern distinction between thought and speech may have been less obvious


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam to an ancient Hebrew audience. Indications of overlap between mental and physical phenomena in the cognitive domain go beyond mere semantics; they are also reflected in narratives about cultural practice. For instance, when Hannah presents her silent prayer in Shiloh, her lips nevertheless keep moving (1 Sam. 1.12f). Correspondingly, the early Jewish word for ‘scripture’ – miqra’ – means ‘the spoken (or: sung) text’. In many ancient cultures religiously charged reading meant reading out loud (Smith, 1993, pp. 7–9). So, one is in fact ‘speaking’ when ‘reading’, and from a modern Western point of view it is often difficult to decide upon a single translation.

Hagah – ‘to murmur, recite, reflect’ Words most frequently translated with a sense of ‘meditation’ are from the root hgh I.12 Etymologically the Hebrew root links to a Semitic stem h-g-y, which occurs also in Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Tigré and Ugaritic.13 In all these languages terms from this stem denote speaking, reading, counting, murmuring. In Aramaic, Syriac and Hebrew the stem also is listed with the sense ‘to think, to reflect, to meditate’. A combination between reading and reflecting is found also in the related root h-g-y in Talmudic, Midrashic and Targumic Jewish texts (Jastrow, 1950, p. 330f). For this term, therefore, there may be an amount of continuity between classical and Mishnaic Hebrew language, but not necessarily between the practices denoted, of course. The classical Hebrew root hgh I has a wide semantic range, even when limiting ourselves to instances where grammatical subjects of the verb are humans.14 The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, which has the widest textual basis, gives five senses: moan, groan, utter (speak), meditate, imagine (plot). Some of the biblical occurrences would unambiguously translate ‘speech, recitation’, see Josh. 1.8: ‘This book of the law shall not be absent from your mouth, you will hgh it day and night’; Isa. 59.3: ‘Your lips speak lies, your tongue hgh wickedness’. Similar expressions occur in literature from Qumran,15 as in 4Q436 f1 1.7f: ‘You have made my mouth like a burning sword, my tongue you have unbound to speak holy words, . . . and you put [on my lips] a chain lest they hgh the deeds of the man whose utterances are corrupt.’16 Other instances rather move in the direction of ‘reflect, premeditate’, such as Ps. 63.7 (ET 63.6): ‘For I think of you when on my couch, and when in my watches I hgh you.’ Again, corresponding usage is found in the Dead Sea corpus.17 In one instance the semantically and etymologically related word hagyg must be referring to silent mental activity, see Ps. 39.2–4 (ET 39.1–3): ‘I said, “I will guard my ways and not sin with my tongue; guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked stands before me.” I was silent, kept quiet, was still, but for no good; my pain grew worse, my heart was hot within me. While I [did] hagyg, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue.’ Reading would often include reflection, and reflection could inversely include recitation/murmuring/whispering. The combination occurs for instance in 4Q525 f14 ii.18: ‘And now, O discerning one, listen to me, and devote your heart to [the] w[ords of My mouth . . .] obtain knowledge for your innermost part and with [your] bo[dy] hgh . . .’18 (The biblical record holds a few more words of this stem that we do not discuss here.19)

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


Other relevant words and stems 1. There has been considerable discussion concerning the assumed root śich II in classical Hebrew. This stem too combines mental and physical reference, with the mental component leaning towards ‘reflection’ or ‘meditation’. The root names strong sentiments and their expression (praise, lament, etc.), but sometimes it seems to denote sentiments only, mostly in literature from the Persian age and later.20 2. HALOT proposes that the noun śiach II is connected to the root śich II. The noun means ‘lament, grief, worry’ or similar. In the Book of Sirach the term denotes sapiential discourse. Again, the connection between reflection and physical expression is at hand. 3. The word śichah in classical Hebrew means ‘meditation, respectful afterthought’ (HALOT). The three biblical examples of the word again bring out an overlap between reflection and recitation: Ps. 119.97: ‘How I love your law: all day it is my śichah’; Ps. 119.99: ‘I am more prudent than all my teachers, for your decrees are a śichah to me)’; Job 15.4: ‘But you are breaking down the fear [of the Lord]; reducing śichah before God.’ 4. The verb lahag occurs once in classical Hebrew, and late at that (Qoh 12.12). In the much earlier language of Ugarit this verb appears in parallel with the common Semitic root h-g-y (above). In its biblical occurrence, the verb points to activity related to books, perhaps what we would translate ‘study’. 5. The stem p-s-g in its only occurrence in Biblical Hebrew means something like ‘make notation of, consider’ (Ps. 48.14). The meaning of another verb that also occurrs only once, shawach, is ‘to walk, stroll, wander about’ (HALOT). Etymologically, it may have been related to the root śich II above, and so did perhaps name ‘reflective strolling’ or similar. 6. A few other terms in classical Hebrew have been interpreted to reflect meditative activity. The most obvious are from the stem damam I ‘be silent, dumb’ but also ‘be still’; and the stem chashah ‘be still’. These occur in passages like Ps. 37.7; 39.3 (ET 39.2); 62.6 (ET 62.5). Franken (1953) made a lot out of this stem, but the philological data seems less conclusive than he implied.

Conclusion Terms from the stems hagah I and śichah II are the main indicators of potentially meditative practices in classical Hebrew, with words from the stems damam I and chashah as additional indicators. All these are capable of referring simultaneously to mental activity and to prompts for or physical (often bodily) manifestations of that practice. Such use occurs predominantly in texts from the Persian age and later. All these terms have a wide semantic range, also denoting activities that would not qualify as meditative according to the provisional definitions of this article and of the book project. For now I am assuming this was due to semantic polyvalence, and when moving from a philological to a textual survey, I tried to select semantically relevant passages.21


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Textual artefacts in classical Hebrew tradition The philological findings indicate that meditative practices were prompted by or focused upon written or oral/aural texts. Also, from other sources it is clear that this culture did use textual artefacts at significant points in their religious life. A text is handled as an artefact when one treats the textual object  – the scroll, the sounding recitation, etc. – in ways that convey a meta-textual message about one’s view of the text: reverence, perception of power, etc.22 Biblical literature witnesses such handling of written and oral/aural texts.23 Most interesting for our purposes are oral/aural textual artefacts, and perhaps most striking to a modern reader is Num. 5.19–25 – a law on how to deal with the jealousy of an allegedly betrayed husband. The priest should utter a curse, write it down, wash the ink off in water contaminated with dust from the sanctuary and then administer the water for the wife to drink. If she survives, she was innocent. The power of the drink, apparently, comes from the curse spoken by the priest and then written. Another example is the Aaronitic benediction in Num. 6.24–7, indicating that it is the pronunciation of the holy name upon Israel that effectuates the blessing: ‘When they raise my name over the Israelites, I shall bless them.’ A number of references are made to presumably well-known texts being recited at significant junctures.24 Although most or all of these reports are historically secondary, they testify to the probability in the world of the reader that aural texts would occur at significant occasions. Reciting of holy texts is a pattern in Western Asian religion according to Wilfred Smith’s study What Is Scripture?25 The Hebrew designation miqra’ and the Arabic Qur’an both relate to the Semitic root q-r-’, which confirms that reading the scripturalized canon out loud was a significant practice. This strengthens the plausibility for asking for textually focused meditative practices also in earlier times. We now pursue this possibility by moving to texts from the classical Hebrew era.

Literary traces of classical Hebrew meditative practices Deuteronomic literature The most explicit indications of usage of text artefacts (written, oral/aural and combinations) come from so-called Deuteronomic literature.26 The theology that commands this literature has an orientation towards teaching and upholding the Torah (the body of advice and laws from the sacred tradition). Its literary and theological universe is oriented towards teaching and regulating the religious concepts and practices of the reader, and the portrayal of the use of textual artefacts suits this purpose well. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 (NRSV): Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them

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as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This passage concludes the shema‘ – sometimes referred to as the centre or the creed of classical Hebrew religion. The passage is one in a series of Deuteronomic references to such practices, see Exod. 13.9.16; Deut. 11.18–20. According to later Rabbinic sources (confirmed in one New Testament passage and in the Letter of Aristeas) Jewish men did wear small leather boxes, tefillin or phylacteries, containing excerpts from holy texts on their forehead and their left arm. Archaeological material verify and clarify the habits reflected in the shema‘. Two silver amulets apparently from late Persian age found in 1979 in Qetef Hinnom, Jerusalem, render shorter versions of the Aaronitic benediction (above),27 a text that was at the time presumably a well-known oral/aural artefact and also a written entry in the Torah of Moses. The amulets were worn on the body for apotropaic purposes. Somewhat later evidence of more conventional phylacteries is also available. One phylacteric item from Qumran, first-century ce, did contain the Decalogue (Fagen, 1992; Milgrom, 1997). So, Jews during the classical Hebrew period probably did write excerpts of holy scriptures on doorposts and on items to be worn on the body. The fact that the directions about textual artefacts in Deut. 6.6–9 were taken literally, renders it plausible that its directions concerning oral/aural text artefacts also might have been understood literally. The mid-second-century bce Nash Papyrus contains the text of the Decalogue and that of the shema‘, in the order that is confirmed as the conventional reading order in the much later Talmud (Tam 5.1). The text of the papyrus deviates in detail from the standard Masoretic text. Interestingly, it is the Nash Papyrus version of the Decalogue that is rendered in the Greek Septuagint (some 200 bce). The implication is that the papyrus reflects ritual recitation that influenced the Septuagint rendition.28 Deuteronomy 6 requires the Torah to be recited ‘when at home and away, in the morning and in the evening’. This implies readings at regulated intervals, which also seems to be implied in our next Deuteronomic passage: ‘This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth; you shall reflect (hagah) on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it’ Joshua 1:8 (NRSV). The statement describes one continuous movement starting with reciting the law, commences with murmuring and reflecting, and ends in acting according to what was read. Strikingly, this is the only passage in the Deuteronomic corpus that uses the verb hagah. It seems possible that the activity conventionally denoted by this verb was perhaps a little too open-ended for Deuteronomic theology. The purpose of this literature is not primarily to make people reflect, but rather to make them remember and to respect what is being remembered.29 This is explicit in Joshua 1, where the purpose of recitation is to remember. The activity denoted by hagah in this case seems to be closely tied to the semantic content of the text.

Spiritual literature The psalms of the Hebrew Bible represent a microcosm of piety and theology in the classical period. No single religious or theological trajectory was ever able to dominate


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the collection. As a result the Psalter reflects various practices, some of which were perhaps never directly related. A fairly high number of passages in the Psalms reflect recitative and/or meditative practices centred upon textual artefacts (narratives, precepts, etc.): 1.2; 19.15; 35.28; 49.4; 63.6;; 104.34; 105.2;; 143.5; 145.5 and possibly also 5.2; 9.16; 37.30; 55.18; 71.24. Dating poems and strophes in the Psalter is immensely complicated. Still, most Hebraists would agree that the best part of the strophes listed above belong to fairly late stages in the compositional history of the collection, likely some time in the Hellenistic age. A first group of utterances point to the recital of (reflection on; meditation over) the person of God and God’s narrated deeds (Pss 77.13; 105.2; 143.5; 145.5). Similar utterances occur in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 10.16; 1QHa 14.14; 17.7; 1QHa 26.13; 4Q258 10.4; 4Q260 4.2; 4Q372 f3 line 4; 4Q381 f1 line 1; 4Q381 f31 line 2; 4Q403 f1 i.36; 4Q403 f1 i.37; 4Q405 f4&5 line 4, etc.). Typical of this mode is Ps. 105.2: ‘Sing for him, praise him; [śich] all his wonders.’ Another group seems to focus more directly on the persona of the deity (Pss 35.28; 63.6; 105.2; see 145.5 and further 4Q256 20.5; 4Q405 f4&5 line 4, etc.). Ps. 35.28 could serve as an example: ‘My tongue shall [hagah] your righteousness, all day I shall praise you.’ Reflection directed towards the divine persona could also be discouraging: Ps. 77.4; see 39.3 and Isa. 33.18; 38.14; 59.11; 1QHa 19.4f.24. Indeed both hagah and śich/śichah occur in contexts of lament, complaint and similar genres.30 One single passage in the Psalter may reflect a practice where meditation has an entirely inwardly focus, more similar to what is known in Eastern meditation practices, but the sense of the verse is not clear (Ps. 77.7, ET 77.6). The problem lies partly in difficulties with identifying the best Hebrew text and partly in translating that text. The preceding verse refers to memories of days past, and one modern interpreter translates the two in this way: ‘I reflect on the days of the past, of years long ago. At night I remember my songs; I ponder in my heart and my spirit seeks (an answer).’31 Understood in this way, even this passage has a narrative of the past as its meditative prompt. In a late sapiential layer of the Psalms  – a layer that exerted influence upon the final redaction of the collection – the Law (torah) becomes a prime object of citation, reflection and meditation. The term torah in classical Hebrew did not refer to the five books of Moses, as in later times. Rather, it referred to a body of priestly legal guidance and precepts, court rulings, etc. Occasionally, as in Psalm 119 below, one gets the impression that torah is an iconic reference for a religious orientation towards practising such precepts. The first poem of the Book of Psalms serves as an extended colophon: a sapiential heading that strikes a motto for the collection at large.32 The poem praises the blessed man (ashrey-ha-ish) who is a paradigm for the user of the Psalms. This ideal figure shies the advice of sinners: ‘in the torah of YHWH is his delight; day and night he murmurs (?) [hagah] over its precepts’ (Ps. 1.2). Another version of this motto is found in Ps. 19.14. Around midway the poet bursts out in praise for the torah of YHWH (vv. 8ff). The praise rounds off in this way: ‘Let the speech of my mouth be for favour, and also the murmuring/pondering (?) [hagah] of my heart before you, YHWH, my rock and my redeemer.’ Both poems imply a movement from recitation of laws and

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


precepts to the reflection over what is recited. The latter could denote a silent, inwardly recitation (the [hgh] of my heart), implying a cultic location for that activity (‘before you’ often locates in the presence of some altar). The silent prayer of Hannah again comes to mind (1 Sam. 1.12). Again, similar utterances occur in classical material outside the Tanak (1QHa 9.37; 4Q412 f1 line 6; 4Q417 f1 i.6, etc.). Perhaps the most pregnant example is Ben Sira 6.37, in Hebrew manuscript A: ‘Reflect upon the fear for the Highest, recite (?) [hagah] his precepts at all times. He shall give you understanding in your heart, you will become wise like you desire.’ The practice named hagah here seems to be recital and mental, and to effect lasting transformation. Similar expressions occur in Ben Sira 14.20 and 50.28. The supreme poem on the Torah in the Hebrew Bible is Psalm 119. In a magnificent acrostic its 176 verses basically repeat the same message in ever-new fashions: ‘Blessed (ashrey) are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the torah of YHWH. Blessed (ashrey) are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart.’ (Ps. 119.1–2). This is an elaborated version of the blessed man motif in Ps. 1.2 (above). Throughout the poem there are references to reflective and meditative practices (verb: śich) directed towards the torah, such as v. 15: ‘Over your precepts I shall ponder (?) [śich]; I shall focus upon your path’; v. 27: ‘Make me understand the way of your precepts; let me reflect (?) [śich] over your wonders!’33 In short, the spiritual sapiential trajectory reflected in Psalms 1, 19, and 119, knew recitative practices focusing upon the torah. These practices could include mental activity and were understood to effect personal transformation. It does seem adequate to label such recitation ‘meditative’. It also seems possible that this practice reflected in late passages of the Psalter had an earlier start. Hypothetically, if one were to perform some sort of hagah in one’s bed during the night, as mentioned in Ps. 63.7 (see 77.6; 119.48), a text like Ps. 119 would be very functional for the purpose, with its slow acrostic progression, its alliterations and monotonous focalizations upon the torah. It seems to me the practice transcoded into Psalm 119 could reflect a long-standing convention of recitative meditation.

The Qumran ‘Book of Meditation’ Certain passages from the Dead Sea manuscripts contribute to embellishing this picture. Qumran literature refers to a sefer ha-hagy, a ‘book of meditation/book of recitation’. Apparently the use of this book requires some amount of initiation; CD 10.6 briefly refers to ‘men who are learned in sefer ha-hagy’ as a requirement for being elected to a certain religious function.34 In 4Q249a f1 line 5f it seems instruction in sefer ha-hagy would be something that all (or most) male members of the community should have. The curriculum followed the maturity of the pupil: ‘[he shall ]be [instructed] in the B[ook of hagy in accordance with his age, and he shall be taught] [the precepts of the Cove]na[nt and he shall receive his education in their ordinances for ten].’ Similar expressions occur in 4Q249e f1 i 3.4; 4Q270 f6 iv.17. In other passages the priest should be particularly qualified:

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‘Let not [the priest who is expert in sefer ha-hagy] dep[art where there are ten men of the community.’ (4Q265 f7 line 6). The case is similar in 4Q269 f10 i.5, and in 4Q267 f9 v.10–13. The Community Rule, CD 14:7f, reveals that schooling in the practice of this book has to do with the pronunciation: ‘. . . learned in sefer ha-hagy and in all the regulations of the Law, to speak them (le-devaram) according to their rules. . . .’ The terminology is similar in 4Q267 f9 v:10–13. In this setting, the translation ‘Book of Recitation’ seems better than ‘Book of Meditation’. It is not evident that all Qumran references to sefer ha-hagy relate to the same phenomenon. If they did, the most reasonable assumption would be that this was a collection of texts used for recitative ritual with a meditational character. Precisely this is the impression gained from 1QS 10:35 8 When weeks of years begin, Jubilee by Jubilee, while I live, on my tongue shall the statute be engraved with praise its fruit, even the gift of my lips. 9 With knowledge shall I sing out my music, only for the glory of God, my harp, my lyre for His holiness established; the flute of my lips will I lift, His law its tuning forth. 10 At break of day and darkling sky shall I enter the covenant of God, and when they depart I shall recite His laws; then shall I prescribe 11 my bounds, never to turn back. . . . 14 when I sit down or rise up, when I spread my bed, then shall I rejoice in Him. I will bless him with the offering, the issue of my lips when in ranked array; 15 before I lift hand to mouth to savour the delightful bounty of the earth; when fear or terror break out, in habitation of dire straights or desolation, 16 Him shall I praise. Upon His miracles and deeds of power shall I meditate [śich]; upon His loving-kindness36 I shall rely all the day.

The oral performance of piety, its connection to the torah and its repetition at salient points of the day (morning, evening) and the year (the jubilee) suggest ritual, meditative recitation. If, for a moment, we allow ourselves to take later Jewish practices as a prism to interpret this text, the passage from Qumran seems to suggest a connection to the Masoretic tradition concerning the liturgical chant of the holy text.37

Concluding remarks Meditative practices have not been important to historical scholarship on the Hebrew Bible. Earlier scholars may have thought that meditative practices in later Jewish, Christian and Islamic religion were imports from the East. This now seems improbable, but questions and challenges remain when interpreting the above material within a project on the cultural histories of meditation.

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


A first challenge concerns semantics. The Hebrew terms hagah, śichah, śich are etymologically distinct, and yet they all denote phenomena of speech as well as of reflection. They clearly imply that ancient Hebrew people did not see speech and thought as distinct phenomena, but rather conceived them as points on a continuous spectrum. Textual and archaeological evidence considered above point in the same direction. This semantic spectrum stretched from what we would name reading or recitation, via memorization, reflection and understanding, to contemplation and meditation. I have chosen the designation ‘meditative recitation’ for this semantic field because the oral performative element seems to prevail and because this implication prevails in the name for the phenomenon provided by classical Hebrew language. There is still a challenge for modern scholars having to rely on Western semantics when understanding this material: if, in classical Hebrew individuals were citing when reading, murmuring when remembering, etc., what, precisely, were these practices like? Another challenge concerns the social distribution of the practices that these terms named. It seems probable that the people who encoded the passages considered above did know practices of wearing and reciting excerpts from the holy tradition (written and oral/aural). The majority of surviving references describe a focus on the torah or aspects of it, but there are additional focal points such as the divine persona, narratives about divine act, the priestly benediction, etc. In any event, the profile of meditative practices recognized by these literati would not necessarily be representative. The Qumran texts reflect practices of reciting with an emphasis put upon correct oral performance, and with the presumption that this is an expert activity even within the designated Qumran community. This, I suggested, points in the direction of the much later liturgical Masoretic chant, which was also practised by religious experts. It is of course possible that items appearing as meditative prompts in elite practice were also recognized as significant or iconic to wider circles of classical Hebrew religion. It might be, therefore, that meditative practices in some form had a wider distribution as well. Perhaps passages in the Psalms could be taken to indicate something of the sort, but we cannot really know. A third challenge applies to interpreting possible mental aspects of these practices. For instance, did ‘inner transformation’ in fact occur? This challenge applies, I believe, in considerable amount also if we were to investigate contemporary meditative practices. In either case we would have to ask for the opinion of the involved practitioners. It seems fairly evident that several of the voices in the above material, like the one in Ben Sira 6.37, are convinced that lasting mental transformation would be the effect of doing hagah. Regrettably, we do not know the specific techniques for bringing about such transformation, nor are we able to say more in detail how that transformation was conceived. A fourth challenge concerns the question of whether or not these practices were individual (or ‘self-administered’), as is required by Eifring’s definition (and mine). The available material seems to suggest that recitative meditation was practised individually and collectively. Some instances locate meditation rituals at daily intervals or at significant calendric points. Given that such temporal and spatial framings as well as the focal texts were communal, and the habit or practice probably was conventional,


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an apprehension of classical Hebrew meditative recitation as fundamentally individual seems to be forced. Still, one must imagine that each individual had to engage freely in order to obtain mental transformation. So, perhaps it is still adequate to define this practice as fundamentally self-administered. But which ‘individuals’ would have access to and be expected to practise such meditation – in terms of gender, age, social status, etc.? And who controlled the religious and other interpretation of the significance of such practices? At this point very much remains to be done. One huge challenge concerns the aim to locate meditational practices in the larger web of classical Hebrew religion. In the material above there seems first to be a Deuteronomic trajectory. This religious trajectory had a strong cognitive and didactic profile, and its examples of meditative recitation suit that profile: it is more oriented towards remembering than reflecting. Precisely for this purpose one could imagine that recitation was a common practice for familiarizing children and illiterates to this religious strand. Simultaneously, this apprehension of the practice locates it in an instrumental rather than a definitional function within Deuteronomic religion. Another trajectory seems to portray meditative recitation in connection to holy texts and motives. The clearest indications occur in late wisdom poems and in the Dead Sea Scrolls material. I suggested pairing such indications with so-called Torah piety in late classical Hebrew religion. Such piety ascribed massive religious significance to the body of divine instruction. It makes good sense that this religious trajectory would generate a practice of reciting and contemplating excerpts from the Torah (including its narrative entries). A poem like Ps. 119 could be taken to reflect that such meditative practices were in fact religiously fairly important, and indeed defining to this form of piety. The ultimate challenge for a project on the cultural histories of meditation is of course to relate the classical Hebrew evidence to the larger history of Western and Eastern meditational practices. As is amply documented in this volume, Judaism, Christianity and Islam feature meditative practices throughout their histories, often using the respective religion’s holy texts (written, oral, aural) as part of the meditative enterprise. This gives them a common characteristic as compared to many Eastern (South, Southeast and East Asian) practices of meditation. The classical Hebrew material above easily falls into these meditative patterns, probably as their earliest documentable phase. Is there a reason why these three religions should develop this particular sort of recitative and text-oriented meditative practices? It is, of course, not possible to go deeply into that issue here. Perhaps I might be forgiven for ending this survey on a more speculative note.38 While all three Western Asian religions profess to be monotheistic, it is hard to see why monotheism as such should provide an answer to our question. It seems to me one should rather search for an answer in the combination of two other salient common characteristics. The first concerns the semantics considered above. All three ‘Abrahamic’ religions took a departure from  – and, in the case of Christianity: retained a strong subtext reflecting  – the Semitic semantics where meditative practices were associated to oral performance that often had semantic content. This fundamental orientation was cultured by the second common characteristic: all three religions developed what I would call strong scriptural canons. Through a network of canonical text, canonized, canonical and

Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation


authoritative commentary and a huge ecology of informal comments, adaptions and revisions (see Stordalen, 2012a, b), each of these religious traditions developed their respective scriptural heritage into an axis in their discourse on and as symbolizations of the respective faiths. By way of some concept of revelation, the scriptures became primary media for conveying the presence of the sacred in the mundane world – at least in official and elite symbolizations. Privileging the scriptures as primary media transmitting the transcendent also allocates considerable symbolical power to the groups responsible for transmitting and interpreting the scriptures. Hence, this construction would be part of a powerful, larger social symbolization. The recitative meditation studied above was mainly a practice inside expert groups (and the same is the case for many other Western Asian meditative practices studied in this volume). So it makes sense that elite religious trajectories should culture the general Semitic conflation of meditation and speech into specific traditions of recitative meditation, as is found already in the Deuteronomic material. This could help explain why meditation in (elite) Western Asian literary reflections has a somewhat distinct profile as compared to those in the various Eastern traditions.

Abbreviations ET = English tradition (when the verse count deviates from the Hebrew) HALOT = The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Koehler and Baumgartner, 2001) NRSV = The New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible.


Mystics without Minds? Body and Soul in Merkavah Mysticism Michael D. Swartz

Ohio State University

With this chapter we enter into Judaism proper. Michael D. Swartz discusses the Hekhalot texts, the early Jewish mystical literature known as Merkavah mysticism. These texts tell stories of ancient Rabbis who travelled to heaven and saw the divine throne. Unlike earlier prophets and apocalyptic writers, they assert that anyone who is properly prepared may do the same. The texts do not, however, provide any instructions for meditation techniques. Nor do they betray any evidence of consciousness of an interior self, such as the soul or mind, which accomplishes the journey to heaven. It is only later, through the influence of philosophical rationalism with the rise of Islam, that it became possible to see visions of God as produced by the inner mind. Swartz explores the implications of this for the cultural history of meditation through examination of selected case studies illustrating the concepts of body and soul operating in Merkavah mysticism. The Hekhalot texts can be useful in interrogating conventional concepts of meditation, including the use of textual evidence for spiritual practices as well as the sense of the interior life that we commonly associate with meditation and mysticism.

Persons without minds In a chapter of his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature entitled ‘Persons without Minds,’ the American philosopher Richard Rorty asks us to imagine a planet on which there lives a species called the Antipodeans, who are like us in every way except for one: They have no notion of the mind or feeling (Rorty, 1979, pp. 70–126). They do have a highly developed sense of neurology. So instead of saying, ‘I feel pain’, they are likely to say, ‘It’s my C-fibers again – you know, the ones that go off every time you get burned or hit or have a tooth pulled – it’s just awful’ (Rorty, 1979, p. 74). When, in the mid-twenty-first century, a party of earthlings lands on this planet, everyone gets along


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

with them except for the philosophers, who are much exercised with the question of how to prove or disprove that the antipodeans do in fact have minds. Rorty tells this story to make a point about the nature of philosophy and its claims to representation. He is also interested in what he calls the ‘invention of the mind,’ showing that the idea of the mind is not a natural one but has a history that betrays its nature as a cultural construction. But the relevance of this story to the cultural histories of meditation is that it raises the prospect that there might be ancient equivalents of the Antipodeans, ‘mystics without minds’, or more specifically, mystics or practitioners of meditative techniques who have no systematic conception of the interior faculties. This chapter is an exploration of this question in the case of Merkavah mysticism, which is generally considered to be the first stage of Jewish mysticism. The evidence for this phenomenon is found in Hebrew and Aramaic texts known as Hekhalot literature, which describe journeys undertaken by ancient Rabbis through the seven celestial palaces or Temples, or Hekhalot, to the divine throne-room, where they see God seated on His chariot-throne, the Merkavah. These texts were written between the third- and eighth-centuries ce in Palestine and Babylonia, roughly the time at which classical Rabbinic literature was taking shape. The phenomena they represent may be useful in interrogating conventional concepts of meditation, including the use of textual evidence for spiritual practices as well as the sense of the interior life that we commonly associate with meditation and mysticism. Moreover, the passages from this literature presented here serve as evidence for a complex network of conceptions of body, mind and soul.

Merkavah mysticism The idea of Merkavah mysticism came into prominence with Gershom Scholem’s description of the phenomenon in his masterwork Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1954), although the term was first used in the nineteenth century.1 Scholem argued that Hekhalot literature, which was previously thought to derive from the Islamic period, reflected a practice of ecstatic visions of the heaven undertaken by members of the central shapers of Rabbinic Judaism, who envisioned themselves travelling through the Hekhalot. In these visions, the travellers gained admittance through the gates of each of those palaces by warding off fierce angels with the proper knowledge, or gnosis, including mysterious ‘seals’ (ḥotmot) consisting of esoteric divine names, which they showed to the angelic guards. Once admitted into the seventh Hekhal, the traveller would see God on his throne, or Merkavah, as described in the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The visionaries then transcribed their experiences and ascribed them to Rabbis Akiba and Ishmael. Scholem maintained that key elements in Hekhalot literature were evidence that the texts reflected ecstatic visions of the divine world cultivated by a circle of mystical practitioners. By this account, the repetitive hymns in the texts served as a kind of mantra to be repeated, inducing a trance. Likewise, the elaborate rituals of fasting, social isolation and ablutions described in the literature also aided in cultivating a mystical state. This view of the purpose of Hekhalot literature has been challenged in several

Mystics without Minds?


ways. Since that time, the approaches by which scholars have come to study Hekhalot literature have changed considerably, in part because of Peter Schäfer’s monumental synoptic edition of the major Hekhalot manuscripts and Genizah fragments (Schäfer, 1981, 1984), which provide a more complete and complex view of the corpus.2 In Scholem’s initial publications on Hekhalot literature, he set forth what he considered to be the principal texts (Scholem, 1954, pp.  45–6; 1965, pp.  5–8). He gave those texts titles such as Hekhalot Rabbati (The Greater [Book of the] Palaces), Hekhalot Zutarti (The Lesser [Book of the] Palaces), Ma’aseh Merkavah (The Work of the Chariot) and so on, based on citations in early medieval literature. Since then it has been customary to divide the literature into several textual units bearing these titles.3 However, Schäfer showed that manuscripts vary greatly in the way the literature is distributed. Several paragraphs may appear in one order in one manuscript, and in a radically different order in another. Moreover, whole sections of a text may be absent in a given manuscript or manuscript family. This led Schäfer (1983) to the conclusion that the assumption that all manuscripts derive ultimately from one Urtext is mistaken. This means that Hekhalot literature consists not of well-defined texts the beginning and end of which can be delineated, but of smaller textual units that were combined by scribes in different ways, depending on the material they had and on their own interests.4 The implications of this critical research for the study of early Jewish mysticism as a phenomenon are profound. These findings show that a Hekhalot text cannot be treated as cohesive documents written by a single author, but must be seen as a composite, made up of several traditions combined in different ways at different times.5 If they are composite texts, they cannot be taken as records of an individual’s personal experience, but must be seen as the product of a process of accretion of literary expressions by many people over a span of time. Since that time, the approaches by which scholars have come to study Hekhalot literature have changed considerably. David J. Halperin (1988) has argued that the purpose of the ascent texts was not to engender a mystical trance but to provide a mythic justification for practices also found in the Hekhalot corpus for conjuring an angel called the ‘Prince of the Torah’ (Sar-Torah).6 Peter Schäfer (1992) also calls Scholem’s understanding of the literature into question, emphasizing the liturgical function of the ascent. Martha Himmelfarb, assessing the implications of this scholarship, focuses on the ascent texts as narrative and argues that ‘the Hekahlot literature should be understood not as rites to be enacted but as stories to be repeated’ (1993, p. 109).7 It has also been shown that the rituals of fasting, ablution and social avoidance prescribed in the literature were not designed to aid a visionary ascent to heaven, but to bring angels such as the Sar-Torah to earth (Swartz, 1996). The Hekhalot texts thus present a paradox for the student who wishes to learn about ancient meditation techniques: They describe ascents to heaven and elaborate visions of God, including instructions for warding off angels and protecting oneself from the dangers in the heavenly realm. Most of the texts are narratives that tell of how an ancient rabbi ascended to the divine throne and received instructions for travelling through the layers of heaven. They also state that anyone can do the same. But these instructions are not exactly ‘practical’, since they take place within the mythic universe


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of the narrative, so they contain little or no practical information about how to achieve such a vision. Is the Hekhalot literature, therefore, useful for the study of the cultural histories of meditation? While the states of mind that produced this literature and the methods that may have been used to induce visions are most likely irrecoverable, it deserves attention as a rich source of myths, rituals and conceptions of the divine and human that vary in significant ways from the classical literature of rabbinic Judaism. Several passages in this and related texts yield valuable information about their authors’ conception of body, mind and their affective qualities.

Looking within To illustrate how central the problem of the internal faculties is to our conceptions of mysticism, vision and meditation, it is useful to begin with a testimony to Merkavah mysticism written somewhat after most of the literature was composed and from outside the tradition. This testimony, written by a philosophically inclined rabbinic legal authority in the tenth- or eleventh-century ce, is valuable not only as rare evidence of the phenomenon from an external source, but because it has been very influential in how it has been described in modern scholarship.8 The text appears in a legal epistle (responsum) by the Babylonian rabbinic leader or Gaon, Hai ben Sherira (939–1038 ce). In this responsum, Hai describes the Hekhalot literature as he understands it: Perhaps you know that many of the Sages believed that whoever is worthy, [possessing] several [moral] attributes which are mentioned and specified, when he wants to see the Merkavah and glimpse the Hekhalot of the angels on high, there are ways of doing so. He is to sit in fasting a certain number of days, and lay his head between his knees, and whisper9 many songs and praises, which are specified, to the ground. And so you can glimpse inside it and its chambers as one who sees with his eyes the seven Hekhalot and sees as if he is entering from one Hekhal to another, and sees what is in it.10

Scholem took this as a testimony to an active practice of cultivating visions of the journey to heaven. However David Halperin (1984, pp.  543–52) showed that Hai’s response seems to be based on a secondary reading of a brief passage in one of the Hekhalot texts, known as Hekhalot Zutarti, that serves as a ritual for obtaining favour at the New Year. Similar fasting procedures appear in introductions to Jewish magical grimoires and procedures for such purposes as cultivating angelic revelation and writing magical names.11 It has been shown that the purpose of these regimens of fasting and isolation, whatever effects they may have had on the psychology of the practitioner, are meant to rid him of all traces of ritual impurity in order to make him ‘like the ministering angels’, thus preparing him for encounters with the supernatural intermediaries he will encounter.12 Moreover, Halperin shows that Hai misunderstood the passage. The reason the practitioner is to rest his head between the knees is so that

Mystics without Minds?


he can avoid fainting and ‘so that the earth will hear’, and not so that he will obtain a vision.13 Therefore the passage cannot be used as evidence that Merkavah mystics used fasting and incantation to produce a trance. However, what is interesting for our purposes is not simply this argument, but the Gaon’s conception of how the vision takes place. For Hai, the vision is the result of a process of looking within and ‘seeing inside’, as if the practitioner were travelling to heaven. Hai’s approach to the subject must be placed in the context of his ideology of mysticism and magic, as has been documented by Moshe Idel (1990) and Elliot Wolfson (1994). Hai was influenced, as were his predecessors Sa’adiah and Sherira Gaon, by early Islamic philosophy (Kalām), although he disavowed active interest in philosophy and accepted many of the supernatural premises of traditional rabbinic theology.14 Elsewhere, Hai gives an internalist interpretation of contemporary reports of magicians who can accomplish such feats as invisibility and teletransportation.15 Alleged invisibility, for example, is probably the result of a failure of the observer’s vision and not of any external magical occurrence.16 In the same way, the Merkavah looks into himself as if he were ‘seeing with his eyes’.17 This process, by which ideas of the mind and interior life develop over the history of Jewish mysticism and thought, is mapped out in considerable depth and detail by Elliot Wolfson in Through a Speculum that Shines (1994), his history of the imagination in Jewish mysticism. Wolfson suggests that in Jewish thought there were two main ways of accounting for the phenomenon of divine visions: The ‘docetic’ and the ‘veridical’. The docetic point of view is that the image of God is produced (with or without divine initiative) through the imagination of the prophet or mystic.18 The veridical position is that the divine Glory has an ‘objective existence outside the mind of the visionary’ (Wolfson, 1994, p.  222). To put this passage into context in Wolfson’s terminology, Hai’s view of Merkavah mysticism is docetic, whereas descriptions of divine visions in Hekhalot literature itself are overwhelmingly veridical.19 This passage is thus analysed here not because it constitutes a valid approach to the way the Merkavah mystics understood the internal faculties, but precisely because it does not  – that it was only through the influence of philosophical rationalism with the rise of Islam that it was possible to see visions of God as produced by the inner mind. The Hekhalot literature itself is quite concerned with ‘seeing the King in His beauty’, in the words of one of the central texts, Hekhalot Rabbati. In another text, Ma’aseh Merkavah, reciting the correct prayers enables the practitioner to see the form of God as well as the array of angels and thrones arranged in a precisely enumerated series.20 When emotions appear in these texts, the prevailing feeling is extreme fear, expressed, as was customary in the ancient Near East, in terms of body language: trembling, shaking, recoiling and so on.21 They express the overwhelming sense of danger that pervades this literature. But we hear very little about the function of emotions themselves. Likewise, although the Hekhalot literature abounds in discourse about vision, it lacks a highly developed sense of what the visual faculty is. Moreover, there is a palpable sense of the physical in the way the literature describes the ascent to heaven and the effects of the angels and other elements of the heavenly landscape on the individual traveller. The texts emphasize that it is imperative that

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the traveller (often known paradoxically as the ‘descender to the Merkavah’) observes the correct protocol in the chambers of heaven and the divine throne-room; he is also to show the angelic guards the proper divine names, known as ‘seals’, at each gate of the seven palaces. If he does not do so, his life is in danger. One passage, from a series of enigmatic poems describing the journey, is particularly graphic. It describes the terrifying voices that issue from the angelic beings that bear the divine throne. Each one of these voices is enumerated in succession, including the following: The fourth voice: The skull and body of anyone who listens to it are immediately shattered and most of his ribs22 are torn away; The fifth voice: Anyone who listens to it is immediately spilled [as from] a ladle And he dissolves entirely into blood; The sixth voice: Anyone who listens to it is immediately seized by a spear to his heart And it makes his heart quake and transforms his viscera And his bile dissolves inside him, turning to water.

The voices are so powerful they could cause the breakdown of the traveller’s body and the dissolution of his insides.23 Such texts are often interpreted to mean that the mystic is in danger of fainting or even being driven mad in the throes of ecstasy and that the colourful language of danger and destruction is the mystic’s way of expressing this danger in symbolic language. Whether or not this is the state of mind that produced these images, however, the texts do not offer this interpretation explicitly as a possibility. They do not hint that the dangers of the journey are metaphorical, or symbolic of an experiential state.24 Two other examples from the Hekhalot corpus will illustrate some of the complexities of their notion of body, soul and mind. The first is a story that has figured prominently in the study of Merkavah mysticism, the story of the deposition of Rabbi Neḥuniah ben ha-Qanah from heaven in Hekhalot Rabbati. The second is from a fragmentary treatise from the Cairo Genizah entitled the ‘Seal of the Merkavah’. They are presented here for what they mean for the relationship of the external to the internal in the phenomenology of the literature.

The deposition of Rabbi Neḥuniah The story of Rabbi Neḥuniah occurs in the core narrative of Hekhalot Rabbati, which describes the ascent of the Rabbi through the Hekhalot. The story takes place (anachronistically) in the Temple in Jerusalem. In response to a national crisis,25 Rabbi Neḥuniah’s disciple Rabbi Ishmael gathers the great sages of the generation into the

Mystics without Minds?


Temple and seats him on a bench of pure white marble, which would contract no ritual impurity (Schäfer, 1981, §202). Rabbi Ishmael and his colleagues stood on their feet: for they would see balls of fire and torches of light going forth between them and him. Then Rabbi Neḥuniah sat and arranged before them all the matters of the Merkavah, the descent and ascent, how one who descends may descend, and how one who ascends may ascend.

At one point Rabbi Neḥuniah makes a cryptic reference to angels who paradoxically harm those who descend to the Merkavah but leave those who descend without permission unharmed (Schäfer, 1981, §224). In order to understand this puzzle, the Rabbis decide they must bring Rabbi Neḥuniah back to earth. However they must do so without causing him harm or sin. To understand the procedure by which they do this, it is necessary to understand the role of ritual purity in the ancient Temple, for which the heavenly abode was the original archetype. In order to approach the potent presence of God, the priests and the people had to be ritually pure. The colleagues thus employ an elaborate procedure in which a piece of fine cloth is touched by a woman who has completed her menstrual cycle, has immersed unsuccessfully, once, and has then immersed correctly.26 This cloth is placed on a bough of myrtle soaked in balsam oil and placed on Rabbi Neḥuniah’s knees. This has the effect of deposing him from the heavenly realm. The basic objective of the procedure is therefore to render Rabbi Neḥuniah impure so that he will be cast down from heaven. The purpose of each of the steps taken is the infusion of the cloth with a marginal degree of impurity. The woman is at a stage in her cycle, after she has immersed a first time, in which her purity is probable but not certain. Rabbi Neḥuniah would then be made impure only in the opinion of a minority of sages.27 But, as Saul Lieberman (1980, p. 242) pointed out, in heaven the minority view with regard to purity prevails.28 The colleagues’ solution was particularly ingenious, for it allowed them to bring him down without violating his earthly purity on the Temple mount. Thus interpreted, this procedure underscores the cultic dynamics of the ascent as conceived by the authors of Hekhalot Rabbati: There are higher standards of ritual purity in heaven, but the function of purity is the same as in the biblical cult. Purity is a prerequisite for approaching the Potent Presence of God. These details have been analysed by scholars as evidence for such questions as the relationship of the Merkavah mystics to rabbinic law and society and whether or not there is a priestly component to the phenomenon. However, the story’s conception of the nature of the journey is of interest to us here. Rabbi Neḥuniah’s body is on earth, on a marble bench, which will keep him ritually pure. At the same time, his body affects whatever it is in him that is doing the ascending. While his body is on earth, it is still essential that he maintain a physical state of purity. When he is touched with the cloth, he is deposed from the heavenly realm. Thus his descent from heaven takes place because of a physical change on earth. The text does not specify what it is that goes up to the Hekhalot. It bears no references to the soul, mind or imagination. It is easy to imagine, as has been argued, that the story presents a portrait (within the fictitious framework of the narrative) of


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how a praxis of visionary ascent might work: A mystagogue would sit, surrounded by disciples, and recite the details of his vision. It is also possible to see this as a work of the imagination, in which the story, and not a systematic theory of the soul, impels the narrator to shift between heavenly and earthly realms. But within the reasoning of the text it is not any inner faculty belonging to Rabbi Neḥuniah – not mind, or even the soul – that travels through the Hekhalot and is cast down to earth. Whatever entity does so, it is inseparable from his body.

The seal of the Merkavah The second text that illustrates these complexities occurs in a fragment of a unique Hekhalot text found in the Cairo Genizah. It was first published by Ithamar Gruenwald and then by Peter Schäfer.29 This composition, which seems to have born the title Ḥotam ha-Merkavah, or ‘The Seal of the Merkavah’, is important as a unique expression of the Merkavah tradition, as a testimony to the unusual sensibilities of its author, and as an indication of the influence of the Merkavah tradition. Because it mentions ‘a certain sage in Babylonia’ we can suppose that it was written in Jewish Babylonia somewhat between the time of the completion of the Talmud in the sixth century and the time when the manuscript was written in the eleventh century. The text bears the influence of Hekhalot Rabbati, but takes the form of a kind of mystical novella, in which Rabbi Ishmael, the hero of Hekhalot Rabbati and other texts, reports his conversations with an angel named Ozhaya, who gives admonition and instructions regarding how to ascend (or ‘descend’) to the Merkavah and obtain the secrets of wisdom. Rabbi Ishmael writes down the angel’s instructions and receives several other aids to the journey from him: a scroll, a ‘seal’ and a ‘path’. The angel describes the dangers of the journey in frightening detail, warns him about how to avoid them and tells him his reward: he will be seated in the divine throne-room along with other visitors. The portion of the text that concerns us occurs during the angel’s instructions for enduring the dangers of the sixth Hekhal: Then you arrive at the sixth Hekhal. There are troops of princes and of battalions, who were at the gate of the second one pushing and repelling and ejecting  – myriads and camps and attendants, all at once  – but there is no delay and you are not harmed. For you hold a great seal, and all the supernal angels recoil from it. Return, O companion, to the warning signs of the sixth Hekhal, that are held for you, like its counterparts, and you will not be destroyed. See the tumultuous fires going forth from the seventh Hekhal to the sixth Hekhal, a coal-like fire and a gushing fire, and a blazing fire, and a sweet fire. They go in and out like arrows. For this reason I have told you not to stand between them in the gate of the sixth Hekhal, but to the side. When they go out from the seventh Hekhal to go into the sixth Hekhal, it is a dangerous sign. Let it be known to you and do not be afraid. For there is a distance of 80,000,000 parsangs from the gate of the seventh Hekhal to the place where you are standing. And when they let forth sound, one in another, you would stand. And if you are standing, (sit). And if you are seated,

Mystics without Minds?


recline. If you were reclining, lie down on your neck. And if you are lying down on your neck, lie down on your face. If you are lying down on your face, dig your fingernails and toenails into the ground of the firmament, and put cotton in your ears and cotton in your nostrils and cotton in your anus, so that your breath (neshamah) will remain and will not escape, until I reach you and resuscitate you and your spirit returns and your soul lives.

The dangers presented by the sixth Hekhal in this text, while not identical to those described in Hekhalot Rabbati, are consistent with the Hekhalot tradition; the fierce angelic guards are familiar from the ascent narratives in the principal texts of the corpus; and the fires that blaze forth between one Hekhal and another are described in such texts as Ma’aseh Merkavah.30 But the most remarkable detail concerns how the traveller is to protect himself, not to mention what he is to protect himself from. He is to dig his fingernails and toenails into the ‘ground of the firmament’; here the text uses a term (qarqa’) usually used for solid ground or real estate. Then he is to close up all of his orifices so that his neshamah will not escape. This term, translated here as ‘breath’, is that used in Genesis 2.7 for the ‘breath of life’ that God first breathed into Adam. The term is also sometimes translated ‘soul’. The following prayer, which is found in the Babylonian Talmud and included in the traditional Jewish prayerbook, is to be recited upon awakening every morning: My God, the neshamah You gave me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it (nafaḥta) into me, and You preserve it within me, and You will take it away from me, to return it to me in the time to come. All the time that my neshamah is within me I thank You, my God and God of my fathers, master of all creatures, Lord of all neshamot. Blessed are You, Lord, who returns neshamot to dead bodies.31

In this prayer, the neshamah is the life substance, given by God, taken away in part through sleep (which the Rabbis called ‘one sixtieth of death’),32 and eventually taken and given at death and resurrection. In the ‘Seal of the Merkavah’, the neshamah is the living breath that not only lives in the traveller’s body, but does so in heaven. The text presumes that while in heaven he is possessed of a breath capable of escaping from his body. The text may reflect a literary point of view in which the drama of the human confrontation with the divine world is heightened by this bizarre detail. But like the story of Rabbi Neḥuniah, it does not constitute an explicit theory of consciousness. Rather, it asserts the presence of the physical body in the celestial realm.

Understand with wisdom There is one text that could be considered along with the early Jewish mystical literature that does seem to reflect a sense of concerted meditation. That text is one of the most enigmatic documents in the history of Jewish mysticism, the Book of Formation or Sefer Yeṣirah. This text, of mysterious origin, concerns the process by which God


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formed the universe out of ten mathematical entities, known as sefirot belimah, probably meaning closed or ineffable numbers. The text goes on to speak of three (or four) primordial elements, ‘twenty-two elemental letters’, and ‘thirty-two paths of wisdom’ as components of creation. The text is then taken up with metaphysical, mathematical and linguistic permutations of these components. The question of the origin and history of Sefer Yeṣirah has confounded scholars from the Middle Ages to modern times. Modern scholars have suggested widely divergent dates for the text, ranging from the first century (Liebes, 2000) to the second or third centuries (Hayman, 1986),33 to the early Muslim era (Wasserstrom, 1993).34 Unlike the Hekhalot texts, Sefer Yeṣirah does offer an explicit indication of how it is to serve as a source of meditation: The ten Sefirot are the basis: Ten and not nine, ten and not eleven. Understand with wisdom and be wise with understanding. Test them and investigate them, and get the matter clearly worked out and restore the Creator to his place.35

The meditation described here seems to be the intellectual contemplation of the relationships between the letters and numbers spelled out in the texts, which will lead to a proper understanding of creation, or even the restoration of God’s rulership.36 If the dating of Sefer Yeṣirah is ever determined with greater certainty, we may be able to place it into the history of Jewish concepts of meditation. Until then, we can only say that the text’s instructions that it is to be used as a medium of contemplation stands in marked contrast to the Hekhalot texts we have seen here.

Meditation without mind? Were the authors of Hekhalot literature thus ‘mystics without minds?’ And if so, what can this literature teach historians of meditation? We have seen examples that indicate that Hai Gaon’s theory of the operation of Merkavah mysticism was not held by the authors of the texts themselves. For them the vision of the divine world was not a matter of ‘looking within oneself ’. There is no evidence that they did not believe that Rabbis Ishmael and Neḥuniah actually travelled to heaven, fought off angelic guards and endured the palpable dangers of the journey. In this they were no different from the authors of prophetic books such as Isaiah and Ezekiel and the apocalyptic ‘tours of heaven’. But at the same time, their goals and world-views were not identical with their biblical and deuterocanonical predecessors. Unlike the prophets and apocalyptic writers, they believed that it was possible to take the initiative and visit the celestial realm. Moreover, they asserted that anyone who possesses the proper information and techniques can undertake the journey. Yet they left the details of these techniques only to the realm of the theoretical – they did not give instructions that could be used by any human being to attain a vision, but only instructions for conducting oneself once that vision is achieved.37 Meditation – that is, concerted contemplation of a supernatural or transcendent object  – occurs only once this vision occurs. For example, Ma’aseh

Mystics without Minds?


Merkavah poses a series of rhetorical questions before introducing its narrative of how Rabbi Akiba gazed at the Hekhalot as a result of reciting magical prayers: Who can contemplate the seven Hekhalot and gaze at the highest heavens, and see the inner chambers, and say, I have seen the Chambers of God?38

But at no time does Rabbi Akiba’s gaze turn inward, nor does any aspect of himself ever depart from his body. Merkavah mysticism, then, is a phenomenon poised between the mythic universe of the ancient apocalypses and the philosophically informed cosmologies and anthropologies of the Middle Ages. When the latter, mediaeval thinkers confronted the Merkavah paradigm, whereby a human being travels to heaven, they went forth and asked how that might take place. This required the articulation, if not the invention of the mind. The lesson for the student of meditation may not just be that conventional dichotomies of mind and body, of internal and external, are not so simple; that would hardly be news to anyone familiar with meditation systems that seek to break down such dichotomies. Rather, the lesson may be that the dichotomies themselves must be invented before they can be broken down.


Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah Alan Brill

Seton Hall University

Kabbalah constitutes the apex of Jewish mystical thought, strongly influenced by mediaeval philosophy. It is also famous for its varied meditative practice, historically influenced by Neo-platonic, Sufi and Catholic techniques, and typologically resembling Tantric and Daoist practices. In this chapter, Alan Brill describes the  meditative prayer of Moses Cordovero (1522–70). This practice is based on the visualization of the ten divine emanations (sefirot), typically ascending from the lower earthly realms towards higher and increasingly divine realms, but also seeking to infuse the lower realms with divine energy brought down from the higher realms. The traditional prayer book is transformed into a scripted meditation manual, where visualization of the ten divine emanations, as well as colours and light, is combined with the recitation of prayers, divine names, numbers and vowels or letters of the Hebrew alphabet, often recited for the sake of their auditory sound effect, and aided by the use of breath. The practice is associated with a number of psychological states, such as calm, silence and love, eventually merging with and returning everything to an undifferentiated divine unity. Along with such techniques for inner transformation, however, Cordovero’s emphasis on textual interpretation and the creation of complex visual patterns also has a clear thematic and devotional focus.

This chapter explores the meditative prayer practices of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522–70), a leading figure within the Jewish form of esotericism and mysticism known as Kabbalah. Cordovero’s practices include meditations on the words of prayer combined with visualizations of the Kabbalistic divine emanations, sefirot, as well as of lights and divine names, with a simultaneous sense of ascent to the infinite. These complex combinations of ascents, colours, lights and divine names, along with the idea of everything returning to an undifferentiated divine unity, can be compared typologically to the world’s other focused meditations found in Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism and Hindu Tantric yoga.


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Similar highly influential meditations on lights and divine names were first developed in late twelfth- and thirteenth-century Provence and Gerona and continued to develop as part of the Jewish tradition until the early modern era. The techniques show the influence of Sufi and Neoplatonic terminology. In the middle of the sixteenth century, these traditions were fully systematized by Cordovero, who led a prestigious circle of Kabbalists in Safed. Cordovero had the ability to systematize diverse texts and had turned the earlier corpus of Jewish mysticism into a coherent theology. He also had the direct benefit of his scholastic training in mediaeval philosophy, which gave his meditative thought theological depth, philosophy scaffolding and rigorous terminology.1 Gershom Scholem, renowned scholar of the Kabbalah, referred to Cordovero as ‘the great phenomenologist of the Kabbalah’. Before elaborating on his system, I must offer a few definitions of the nature of the Kabbalah. These will be used throughout the chapter.

Kabbalah Kabbalah is the term applied to Jewish esotericism and Jewish mystical activity since the formation of the thirteenth-century classics of Jewish esotericism such as the Zohar. There are many strands of teaching in the Kabbalah, however the focus of this chapter will be Cordovero’s view of the Eyn Sof and his view of the ten sefirot (plural of sefirah, emanation).2 It is important to state at the outset that there are many different schemes of the Kabbalistic divine emanations with many variations and differences in nomenclature. Cordovero’s system presented the highest aspect of Divinity as the Eyn Sof (That Which Is Without Limit). The Eyn Sof is inaccessible and unknowable to man but God reveals Himself to mankind through a series of ten emanations, the Ten Sefirot, a configuration of divine energies that issue from the Eyn Sof. They are keter, hokhmah, binah, hesed, gevurah (din), tiferet, nezah, hod, yesod and malkhut (shekhinah). Through contemplation and virtuous deeds based on the divine emanation, human beings can also bring down the divine grace to this world. The first of these sefirot is keter (crown) and refers to God’s will to create. The next two sefirot, hokhmah (knowledge) and binah (understanding), represent the unfolding in God’s mind of the details of creation. The next three sefirot are a triad of hesed (loving­kindness), gevurah (judgement) and tiferet (glory). The first part of the triad, hesed, refers to the uncontrolled flow of divine goodness. The second component, gevurah (judgement), refers to uncontrolled flow of divine judgement (din). The third and final part of the triad, tiferet (glory), refers to the mediation of the two extremes. Nezah (victory), hod (majesty) and yesod (foundation) are a lower triad mediating prophecy and providence. The last of the ten sefirot, malkhut (kingdom), is the collecting point of all higher blessing and the fountain to which humans connect through meditation and ritual. Names of the sefirot will vary based on context; for example, the lowest sefirah is referred to as shekhinah (God’s indwelling) when personifying the female divine immanence and malkhut while representing the lowest of the ten sefirot.3

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


The sefirot are not separate sefirot deities, but are commonly represented in a diagram generally referred to as the Tree of the Sefirot or the Kabbalistic Divine Emanations. There is great significance to the position of these various attributes and their interconnectedness. At many points in the meditations we are going to discuss, the ten sefirot are treated as three triads plus malkhut. In general, Cordovero perceives these ten sefirot as concentric, similar to tree rings or celestial spheres, with the malkhut in the centre and Eyn Sof as the perimeter (Figure 4.1). In other places, he arranges them as a tree consisting of three triads plus malkhut (Figure 4.2). One starts meditating on the lowest level, the earthly level of the shekhinah (= malkhut). From there, one attains via yesod access to tiferet as the trunk and body of the system, and from there one proceeds to the top triad of keter, hokhmah and binah as the divine mind. The triad is also conceptually personified without images. The shekhinah is the feminine bride image of God (and is therefore referred to as ‘she’), tiferet is the male or groom, and hokhmah and binah are the Divine mother and father. Keter is portrayed as above personification leading to the undifferentiated oneness of Eyn Sof. In this arrangement, the kabbalist frequently speaks about the marital union of the bride shekhinah and the groom tiferet. The ten sefirot are also represented by the nine Hebrew vowels applied to the four letter name of God called the Tetragrammaton (YHVH), ranging from the longest sound at the top at keter and gradually decreasing down to the short vowel at yesod. Malkhut or shekhinah does not have her own sound but is a Tetragrammaton without vowels. (See below for more details.)

Figure 4.1  Sefirot as concentric circles


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Figure 4.2  Sefirot as a tree

In some prayers, there is an assumption that reality is made up of four ascending worlds with the ten sefirot repeated with the same names in each of the four worlds for a total of 40. In other prayers, the realm of the ten sefirot is further visualized as having divine chambers (hekhalot), gates and gatekeepers.

Cordovero and Kabbalah The Cordovero Kabbalistic system treats the above described ten sefirot as a dynamism of the mutual activities of a downward light (or yashar) and an upward flow of light (or hozeh). This is in contrast to those who treat the sefirot as actual metaphysical levels. These fluid images of the Divine as light offer many panentheistic formulations, in which everything is filled with this Divine energy that flows from the infinite Divine into every lowly material world item. Cordovero does this despite his strong theistic and transcendental elements.

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


Moshe Idel, currently the leading academic scholar of Jewish mysticism, describes Cordovero’s practice as following what Idel refers to as a mystical-magical model in which one mentally ascends through visualization into the source of spiritual energy and then descends while magically drawing down the supernal energy. Idel observes that it is the auditory sound produced from proper enunciation of the punctuation of the letters, not the graphic forms of the letters themselves that has the power to draw down the spiritual forces.4 According to Idel, Cordovero’s meditative ascent creates a realm of inner space in the mind of the mystic, a ‘luminous area of experience’, which culminates with assimilation, into the Divine. These experiential dimensions sometimes include the additional results of self-effacement, transcending the world, inner transformation and feelings of nothingness.5 Beyond Idel, this chapter will show that all ascents are not the same, that each word of prayer has its own mental task and that the ‘luminous area’ has specific, nontransferable configurations of the inter-divine structures for each word of prayer.6

Cordovero’s meditation Cordovero’s meditative activity is accomplished through active visualizations and imaginations done concurrently with enunciations. In the process, one focuses one’s thought and emotion onto the visualizations. He does not suggest or allude to a tradition of breathing, sitting or relaxing. The practice is a visualization process, but the explicit results are an experience of drawing down divine energy. Nevertheless, Cordovero consistently describes the results as reaching a place of silence, selflessness and reaching beyond pain and suffering. These are results that are derived from the practice of visualizations of Divine names.

Prerequisites, attention and focus Cordovero exhorts towards an ethical, meditative path of imitating God vis-à-vis cultivating patience, selflessness and a sense of calm. Many of the qualities that Western meditators look to attain through meditation Cordovero assumes are prerequisite qualities attained through moral and ascetic training. He requires Sufi-like attention on God attained through a continuous focus on the Torah and the ideas of the Kabbalah, sometimes leading to an influx of divine energy during the act of reading or study.

The static ascent through the luminous realm For Cordovero, the meditative process begins at the visualization of the ten sefirot in front of one as if in a chart, map or tree, basically a visual mental screen of the sefirot. Then, through visualization starting at the bottom, one makes an ascent through the lower levels of the chart. The sefirot are not a chart, as usually drawn in books about Kabbalah, but rather a spatial realm that is visualized as a mental screen with different lights as locations in that space. In Cordovero’s version, the mental screen is free-floating


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and ethereal like vapour. Within the luminous area of the screen there is an imagined complex realm of gatekeepers, heavenly palace chambers (hekhalot), and sefirot, yet all is vapour. The Divine energy descends and one re-ascends with energy and then draws down specific spiritual forces. Sitting in prayer and reaching the sefirot have results of turning from the world and attaining calm.

The dynamic ascent into oneness The next part of the meditative process is the dynamic ascent, which correlates to specific words in the Jewish prayer service during which one visualizes moving around within this luminous space. In the thirteenth-century Provençal method, there was an ascent of the mind from shekhinah (= malkhut) to tiferet or binah, contrasting with Cordovero’s sixteenth-century method, in which the shekhinah itself is raised and the entire system collapses up like the folding up of a telescope. One folds shekhinah up beyond yesod, nezah and hod which makes her the same as tiferet; the point is not that there is only tiferet or that she has merged into tiferet, but that she has been raised to the point of tiferet. It culminates in bringing everything to binah, which is seen as already partaking of the energy and merging into oneness of the higher realms.

Detailed directions for the words of prayer There are clear, detailed directions for further superimposed visualizations while enunciating the words of worship, with a different focus for each word. Examples will be given below.

The use of superimposed names At designated points in the meditative prayer, Cordovero requires one to visualize a variety of Divine names. He also requires one to visualize the spelling out of the numerical value of the Divine name (141, 151, 161, et  al.). In the courses of his meditations, Cordovero makes use of several representations of the Divine name, including interspersions of two names, the phonetic spelling out of a Divine name and the magical powers of the 72, 63, 42, 53 letter names of God.

The parts of Jewish worship Jewish daily morning worship is divided into four units – the preliminary blessings, the prefatory praises, the doxology of the shema (declaration of faith) and standing before God’s presence in the amidah (central prayer). The simple non-meditative explanation of these sections is as follows: The first part, the preliminary blessings, is a fixed formula blessing of God for the renewal of the day and includes blessings for daybreak, clothes, freedom from slavery, eyesight and strength. It also includes a recitation of the sacrifices that were previously offered in Temple times. The second part, prefatory praises addressing God as King, is an adoration consisting of hymns, Biblical psalms

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


and blessings of God’s kingship. The third component of the prayer service, the shena, is a doxology of God as one together with the Biblical verses on love of God (Deut. 6.4–9). It also includes three blessings about God’s love. The fourth part, the amidah, is a recitation of 19 blessings or petitions, as if one is standing in the direct presence of God as King. This is followed by prostration and supplication as if one were addressing the deity directly in front of one. Finally, there are closing hymns and chants to ward off the evil forces that may attach themselves to one’s prayers. The meditative explanation of the four sections of morning worship is as follows: The initial recitation of the sacrifices moves one beyond the external world into the zone of prayer. The second part, the prefatory, utilizes praises to draw energy down to malkhut, thereby developing an intricate luminous mental screen. The third part of prayer, the shema, creates a static image through unification. The fourth part of the service, the amidah, is the mystical ascent and loss of self, followed by a slow and complex drawing down of higher forms through Kabbalistic energy. In short, Cordovero’s meditation is a mental process of manipulating specific foci within these luminous realms and developing a complex system of conduits. In his visualization, the meditator keeps returning above and reconnecting the higher realms to the lower realm. Many patterns of movement are possible: horizontally based variations move to the right side and then to the middle and left side, or one crosses from right to left and vice versa, or one moves each triad to connect to the next triad. There are vertical variants that move each level of the mediations down sefirah by sefirah as ten steps, and there are other versions that connect the higher realms directly to the lower realms. After creating the mental, luminous realm, at specific points one either unifies the array or manipulates it in other ways. Examples would be thinking of the blessing of the Divine names to invoke magical powers, or thinking of other images such as the 12-sided image of tiferet or 40-point image of malkhut, during the amidah or shema respectively. These preparatory sensory images of the sefirot bring one to the intuition of the Divine essence. Then one collapses this image upward, similar to the process of autohypnosis, followed by the annunciation of the words of prayer.7 There are always two parts to the ascent: the unified undifferentiated ascent of the mind, volition and breath as the first part, followed by the differentiated ascent of words as the second part. There are two aspects to prayer: the enunciated words and the mental intention. The enunciation of the words, with the breath, raises the words above while the visualization of the graphic images of the words, along with their auditory vowels, are the vessels containing the descending influx. However, the intention merges everything into God; cleaving to the Divine requires an intellectual and volitional binding in the mental ascent (and ascent of the breath) followed by ascent of the words and visions of ascending palaces.

Nominalism Cordovero treats the spatial descriptions of the sefirot as actual descriptions of the attributes of God, however the names of sefirot are just nominalist names

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for certain states, levels and visualization experiences. The sefirot are all analogy (mashal), our refracted human attempt to explain our experiences of the Divine hierarchy through a glass. Cordovero relates his practice to the thought of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides (d. 1204)  by using a negative theology of God and by treating the attributes of God as only a means of describing reality from the human perspective. Cordovero considers meditation and experience as the basis for understanding Kabbalistic texts. He writes that the sefirot, unlike all the diagrams of the sefirot drawn throughout the centuries, ‘do not exist in a spatial continuum, and therefore, it is impossible to differentiate them except through analogy’. Cordovero adds that one should not treat the sefirot as literal, corporeal or even as real entities: [The sefirot] do not exist in a spatial continuum, and therefore, it is impossible to differentiate them except through analogy. Using colours as metaphor, one can differentiate between ascending, or increasing, according to the relation between one colour and another. The dynamics of the sefirot can therefore be alluded to completely through the interplay of colours. All this is to ‘ease the physical ear’, allowing the verbal expression of these concepts. There is no question that the colours can thus serve as a door to the dynamics of the sefirot. They are also useful in transmitting influence from a given sefirah.8

In keeping with a non-literal approach, Cordovero instructs the reader not to treat the sefirot literally and to visualize the sefirot as letters. Cordovero uses the vowels of the Tikkunei Zohar tradition from the late thirteenth century (Tikkun 70), which ascribes the long vowels to the highest realms, while the shorter vowels are gradually ascribed to lower sefirot. The vowel keter is kametz, hokhmah is patah, binah is zerei, hessed is segol, gevurah is sheva, tiferet is holem, nezah is hirik, hod is kubetz, yesod is shuruk while malkhut does not have a vowel because it reflects the influx of the energy of the other vowels (Table 4.1). Table 4.1  Sefirot and vowels


Hebrew vowel name Hebrew vowel sign (combined with ‫)ב‬

Keter (Crown)



Hokhmah (Wisdom)



Binah (Understanding)



Hesed (Kindness)



Gevurah (Severity)



Tiferet (Beauty)





Hod (Glory)



Yesod (Foundation)


Nezah (Victory)

Malkhut (Kingship)

ּ‫בו‬ No vowel

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


The visualization of the Divine names changes in the mind during meditation based on the vowel associated with it. Changing vowels is equivalent to an ascent or descent in the sefirotic realm: There are ten of these Divine names, and Rabbi Shimeon b. Yohai has explained all of them in the Tikkunim. They are the following: The first is for keter, YoHoVoHo; its vowels are kamaz. The second is for hokhmah, YaHaVaHa; its vowels are patah. The third is for binah, YeiHeiVeiHei its vowels are zeirei. The fourth is for hesed, YeHeVeHe; its vowels are segol. The fifth is for gevurah, YeHeVeHe; its vowels are sheva. The sixth is for tiferet, YoHoVoHo; its vowels are holam. The seventh is for nezah, YiHiViHi; its vowels are hirik. The eighth is for hod, YuHuVuHu; its vowels are with three dots [kubetz]. The ninth is for yesod, YuHuVuHu; is vowels are shuruk. The tenth is malkhut, Y-H-V-H; it does not have any vowels for it receives [the downward influx from] all the vowels. The reason is that She [the Shekhinah] performs all activities.9

These Divine names function as a mental icon for use in meditation and not as a pictorial icon of a deity: Furthermore, it is fitting for the meditator during his meditations to be careful so that he does not think of the attributes as corporeal things. Rather, meditate on the attributes using Divine names, for we are unable to bound or define each attribute except through these Divine names.10

According to Cordovero, one cannot pray directly to the sefirot as an icon of the infinite deity, because prayer needs to reach the actual infinite aspect of the Divine. On the other hand, one cannot pray without the ascending mediation through the levels starting from the bottom, because that would be ineffectual, since one cannot skip over the lower levels, the same way that one cannot get to the centre of a palace without going through anterooms first. It is improper to meditate such that his meditation should be on the attributes [of God], with his thought arising only on the attributes. Rather, all [thought should be] mysteriously connected to the source . . . However, there is no [mental] activity connected to the source Himself without coming through His attributes. Therefore, it is fitting for the worshiper in saying ‘Blessed’ to know and understand the attribute through which the source is called ‘Blessed,’ and similarly for the other attributes and names.11

Cleaving to God: Cordovero’s description of the event Cordovero has a complex theory of the soul, beyond the scope of this chapter, in which humans have over 20 parts to their soul, ranging from the biological pneuma, through one’s veins up to various astral bodies, each of these in turn consisting of several parts.


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The soul, which is often considered to harbour consciousness or psyche, possesses intellect, volition and emotion; these are to be channelled into service of the higher soul (neshmah). The higher soul cleaves in both thought and emotions to the Divine and enters into the Divine realm, thereby attaining peace, enlightenment and a return to its source. To achieve this: A person can cleave to Him through directing his will to the mystery of the sefirot, the Tetragrammaton, and the [other] Divine names. One who does not know the mystery of how to cleave to Him will not have the ability to grasp Him. ‘He will cleave like a flame in a coal . . .’ Man’s volition and soul ascends from the will of his heart to be certainly bound to the supernal palaces. Thus, man should first meditate on repairing malkhut. Her repairs are the mystery of the palaces, like a flame bound in a coal, The mystery of man’s intention is the breath of his mouth created from the vapour of his mouth, and the soul arising through the breath. They cleave and return to their source . . . He should meditate on binding and unifying her . . . There is the beginning of holy cleaving and binding oneself in unification.12

Cordovero experiences his connection in thought and emotion to the shekhinah and thereby his ascent to cleaving to God as a way of the flame; as a flame rises up as fire and smoke, so too the human soul. We see here that he describes his practices as volitional rather than visionary. One must direct the will towards the Divine and ignite the inert coal so that the flames can allow everything to be obliterated into smoke, representing Divine oneness. One repairs the shekhinah as the coal by making sure that the flame is bound to the coal. The flame is the energy from above that ascends as vapour into the unknown of the air around the fire. Cordovero also offers breath as a metaphor for this ascent, since every breath returns as vapour to its Divine source above. Cordovero reverses the order of the Zohar where the flame of the sefirot is connected to the source of the fuel in the infinite coal, and the theosophical fire is the ephemeral manifestation of the hidden energies of the coal. For Cordovero, the fire is real and the coal is ephemeral. The meditation practice is to enter the chambers and palaces below the shekhinah and raise them into the shekhinah, thereby raising one’s own soul.

Silence and clouds Ascent in silence is Cordovero’s interpretation of the loss of differentiation and integration of the self within the third sefirah, binah. This ascent, during the silent prayer of 19 blessings (amidah), allows the entrance and then the merging of the soul into the supernal realms. Cordovero uses ascent imagery such as breath, clouds, vapour and air to explain the process. Cordovero writes with a light ephemeral approach about the supernal realms. He calls the ascent itself silence (hashai), because in the place of silence, all differentiation of the sefirotic realms vanishes like vapour into the mystical

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


oneness. The union of the sixth sefirah, tiferet, and the final sefirah, malkhut, exists as unarticulated silence; however, the second sefirah, hokhmah, is beyond the realm of language and is depicted as an apophatic cloud. The silence ascends, while the clouds descend. When everything is dissolved into the undifferentiated oneness, the lack of structure causes the infinite light, as mediated by the 72-letter name, to descend with the shekhinah and down to the person praying. [The Tikkunei Zohar writes:] ‘When the Shekhinah enters into these clouds, she enters in silence with the silent prayers’ etc. The ascent of the Shekhinah does not literally mean that [only] She ascends. Rather, the mystery of Her ascent is really the mystery of the ascent of all of the sefirot to connect above to their source . . . Through the shekhinah’s ascent to bind [herself] with tiferet, she causes tiferet to bind with Her through the mystery of the descent of the higher levels. That is, keter flows into hokhmah, and hokhmah into the [other] sefirot . . . Then, the mystery of the setting of the clouds will be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the adornments are all gathered together, and do not go up word by word. Rather, the breaths of prayer become unified with the air of the world until all prayers are gathered together . . . When they [the sefirot] do not have any Divine influence to influence [the lower worlds], they are silent.13

Unity of shema To demonstrate how this is done during a prayer service, we will look at how it is done with the doxology of the shema, which consists of six words. ‘Hear O Israel, The Lord is God, the Lord is One’. The Zohar describes the moment of the recitation of the shema as a unification of the divine realm. For Cordovero, the Zohar’s unity of the sefirot becomes a visualization and the raising of human volition unto the infinite Eyn Sof (that which is without limit). The enunciated words of the shema are the means to ascend to the sefirot.14 ‘To make one unity of the six words of Hear O Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4), and to direct the will on them above.’ [The Zohar] deliberately said ‘six words’ and then ‘direct the will’ because the Ein Sof cannot be connected to any word, name, serif, or crown. Rather, the words and names only refer to the sefirot. Their unity comes through reciting the words of the Shema. This is what is meant by the phrase, ‘To make one unity of the six words of Hear O Israel,’ because the words themselves are in the sefirot.15

Cordovero writes his own summary intention in the margin above the words of the liturgy: The section of ‘Hear O Israel’ (shema yisrael) has six words alluding to six sefirot within tiferet. In the verse ‘Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever,’ there are also six words alluding to six sefirot within yesod:

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Meditate on malkhut, which is the opening of the entering [into tiferet]. Hear (shema) Supplicate to tiferet that he should dwell with her. in hokhmah Israel! (Yisrael)

The Lord (Y-H-V-H)

Bind hokhmah with binah. tiferet. Is our God (e-lo-heinu)

the Lord (Y-H-V-H)

Malkhut united with tiferet. Alone (ehad).

Adonai ascent To use another example, in the fourth part of Jewish liturgy, the amidah, one is standing before God personified as king. One enunciates an opening of six words: ‘Lord, I open up my lips. And my mouth will declare your glory’ (Adonai S’fatai Tiftach. U’fi yagid tehilatecha). These words will serve as a springboard to do the requisite visualization of starting with malkhut down below and then visualizing the movement up to tiferet and then a return to malkhut to visually ascend to hokhmah. A scripted version of the visualization on just this one line would proceed as follows: at the start of the amidah, one seeks to enter into the divine realm by crossing ‘the two gates of prayer’, nezah and hod. This means that through visualization one raises malkhut higher than nezah and hod, and from there one visualizes that malkhut becomes connected to tiferet together with the influx from hokhmah and binah into tiferet. There are six successive levels of visualization or meditation of the prayer, some of them mental screen upon mental screen while others are comprised of screen replacing screen. The first level is the visualized ascent, the second is the volition bringing everything up, the third is the visualization of sefirot upon the luminous background, the fourth is the sefirot upon and within other sefirot. There are micro visions within a larger vision, the fifth element is to see oneself as rising through the four worlds, in which the sefirot are considered different each time. Finally, one visualizes that divine names are superimposed on the mental screen. Cordovero describes the process of prayer as a process of volitionally going through doors in combination with the language of ascent. For Cordovero, one experiences oneness with the luminous realm as well as reaching the discreet sefirot that one is instructed to reach. He also gives directions for concurrent love, loss of self and volitional intention, some of these are the results of meditation and others are prerequisite emotions of adoration that are needed to enter the meditation. It is hard to decide if they are prerequisites or results. For example, the amidah meditation contains strong volitional elements, in which one is told to focus on love and submission to enter the gates of tiferet. One silently opens the gates to reach the

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


Divine, since the amidah is silent. One visualizes standing at the tiferet of the sefirah of binah, as a micro sefirah within a sefirah; there is a repeat of all ten sefirot within the sefirah of binah so one focuses on the tiferet of binah. One’s goal is a mental unity (yihud) with the divine attained by getting past the first noise in the mind to get to that point of tiferet. The opening words of the liturgy, (Adonai [ADNY] S’fatai Tiftach. U’fi yagid [YAGID] tehilatecha), become a complex visualization based on the division of the Hebrew words of the prayer into separate visualizations. The Divine name Lord (Adonai) ADNY is divided in the visualization into two parts AY and DN. The first and fourth letters of the name, AY, become the word AYn as in Ayn Sof, the infinite of God, so it reflects the Infinite oneness found within the ten sefirot, showing the unity of keter, tiferet, and malkhut. The middle two letters DN, become the word DiN meaning judgement, so it represent the forces of judgement and materiality showing the emanation process as privation from the Divine goodness. This method of breaking words into separate letters and interpreting each letter was already practised in the thirteenth century for isolated words such as the division of one (ehad) of Shema into three units, E, H and D with three separate visualizations. But here we have words of the amidah, especially the name A-donai (A-d-n-y), divided into aleph, for the top three sefirot, daled-nun as judgement of the world and yod as the ten sefirot. The infinite light above (aleph) descends to the earthy world of judgement (daled-nun) through the means of the ten sefirot (yod). The infinite light cascades down in emanation as the discrete units of the three Divine names: E-yheyah, Y-H-V-H and A-donai. These names fill the mental screen, almost like flash cards. The word ‘will tell’ (yagid) of ‘will tell wisdom’ (yagid hokhmah) is given a similar treatment. Yagid has dual connotations of the literal meaning, ‘to tell a secret’, and the esoteric meaning, ‘sexual organ’ (gid), meaning that the primordial wisdom of hokhmah comes down as a drop of semen and shoots out like an arrow. Gimmel and daled, as the third and fourth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which equals seven, stand for the emanation of wisdom into the seven (GD) lower sefirot telling (yagid) their secrets. They also represent the sexual organ (gid), which corresponds to the sefirah of yesod, to which malkhut was joined in order to reach beyond nezah and hod. These complex letter manipulations, which are superimposed on the pattern of ascent, necessitate the personal writing of a prayer book to be used during prayer. One must master the details by converting textual descriptions into workable mnemonics. I have noticed that twenty-first-century Kabbalists use coloured markers, colour tabs and highlighters in prayer books to indicate the directions for the proper visualizations to be used in prayer meditation. The complex visualizations can be done with ease when one is turning the pages of pictures of the ideal visualized words, letters and sense of space. With the start of the actual amidah, there is a resulting moment of the mind seeming to merge with the higher realm of binah. Following this, the meditator looks further above to the higher levels in order to bring the infinite into the world of judgements


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(din, also called gevurah in other contexts). In this meditation, there is the sense of infinite, and there is the transformative sexual image in which Divine wisdom is portrayed as semen. (According to traditional biology, semen was produced in the brain and travelled down the spinal cord.) ADNY, this name is malkhut. Meditate that She is now higher than nezah and hod, as She is silently rising. The individual is silent because the union is in silence. The mystery of this verse [to open the lips] is to open the door of the palace for the worshiper to enter inside. One knocks and says, ‘my Lord’ (ADNY), who is malkhut, as she is the aspect bound in the mystery of daled nun that she is the mystery of alef, which is the name eh-yeh in binah and the mystery of yud, which is Y-H-V-H in tiferet. This is why she is called Ado-nai, tied to three names, Eh-yeh, Y-H-V-H, Ado-nai on nezah and hod. ‘My lips’ are nezah and hod; ‘open’ (tiftah) from inside the palace. ‘and my mouth’ (u’fi) for through the opening of the lips the mouth is formed, which is malkhut. Immediately, ‘will express’ (yaggid), from the side of hokhmah, which is the mystery of gimmel daled, seven sefirot GYD, a drop from the brains that are drawn down in the mystery of semen that shoots like an arrow.16

First blessing The first paragraph of blessing in the amidah offers a sample of the meditations on each of the amidah’s 19 blessings. The goal of the first blessing during the silent amidah is to draw down from binah into the lower sefirot. One has a whole vision in which the energy descends into yesod and malkhut. Cordovero alerts the reader not to misunderstand the process by thinking that one is still just connecting the lower to the higher sefirot. Rather, during the time one is reciting this blessing, one is completely within the infinite energy of binah and drawing the energy down within the depths of the oneness. Binah is treated as if it was a specific psychological state, a chamber unto itself, and the references to sefirotic locations are all within this binah chamber. The entire first blessing is not only in binah but also in a place called the depths of binah, either indicating a deeper chamber or a deeper state of mental cleaving. The imagery is of an infinite king, a cosmic deity great enough to have a multitude of aspects (bekhinot), called inner limbs. This entire blessing is in the depths of binah until [the last words of the blessing] ‘shield of Abraham’ when She descends into hesed. Whenever it says that [the prayer] goes down into malkhut and the avot, it is all hidden in binah.17

Meditative Prayer in Moshe Cordovero’s Kabbalah


Cordovero reiterates that his method is to go from top to bottom during blessings, drawing down from the Eyn Sof to malkhut. Cordovero sees the question of whether one should visualize top to bottom or bottom to top as a practical issue; for him, the best means of bringing influx and sweetening is by starting at the top and drawing the influence down: ‘Bless’ During the amidah, one should direct ‘bless’ down from the Ein Sof to yesod including all ten sefirot from the Source of everything, to bring down influence from on high until malkhut below through thought. Should he start ‘bless’ from bottom-up, then he is standing in din. Rather, start from the top; this is the mystery of ‘blessed’ from top-down to repair it beforehand with influx and sweetening its judgements.18

Energy is drawn down from the top three sefirot to the middle six; first as keter, hokhmah and binah into tiferet, into a 12-sided version of tiferet, and in the concluding blessings of the amidah the bringing of the spiritual energy into malkhut.

UbaLezion and demons Before Cordovero ends his practice, he offers a meditation to keep the demons away. Demons play an important role in Cordovero’s meditative process as personified forces of vice. The demons are not an independent realm, as in thirteenth-century Castilian Kabbalah, nor do they imply a fallen world. The meditation UbaLezion allows the closing of the liturgical service to be a time when the person praying can fortify the holiness of God and thereby not leave any space for the demons to enter. In the start of the prayer service, the recitation of the sacrifices serves to create the mental sacred space by removing the demonic forces; the end of prayer needs to expand the sacred space by undoing the limited prayer realm through expansively engaging in a fight with the demons of one’s ordinary life.

Conclusions Cordovero offers a complex path of meditation that is to be followed on a daily basis by turning the traditional prayer book into a scripted meditation manual of visualization of a luminous realm, sefirot, Divine names and the Hebrew letters of the prayers. Concurrent with this were a number of psychological states that are both prerequisite and results, such as merging with the Divine, calm, silence and love. Cordovero inherited several Neo-platonic, Catholic and Sufi techniques with their ability to be above pain, in the light, and returning to the One. However, his emphasis on textual interpretation of the Kabbalah and the creation of Kabbalistic visual patterns into complex patterns has transcended the practical for the interpretive.


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His approach of combining ascents, colours, lights and divine names with the returning of everything to an undifferentiated divine unity can be compared to the world’s other focused meditations found in Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism and Hindu Tantric yoga meditations. This presentation moves the investigation of Kabbalistic meditation away from discussions of the mystical unity or magical ascents to the complex mental meditations. Much further work needs to be done to explore Cordovero’s ascent into lights, colours and names.


Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice in Kabbalah and Hasidism Lawrence Fine

Mount Holyoke College

Jewish mysticism is social and communal, without the focus on solitary religious life so common in other traditions. In this chapter, Lawrence Fine describes how Kabbalah and then Hasidism developed meditative practices based on spiritual friendship, often used as preludes to prayer. While these practices are still self-administered, they make the person surrender his own individuality in order to become one with his spiritual companions, with his rebbe, with all of Israel and, in one or two cases, with all human beings, in accordance with the injunction to ‘love your fellow as yourself ’. Visualization of one’s companions was a central element in many such techniques, intensifying the sense of spiritual intimacy. In addition to the practical aim of avoiding strife in the community and encouraging mutual help in difficult times, these practices were intended to link one person’s prayer to all the prayers of Israel and thereby effect the healing or repairing of the primordial breach resulting from creation. The chapter discusses similarities and differences with parallel practices in non-Judaic traditions, including the Sufi visualization of one’s shaykh as a prelude to dhikr, and the Buddhist visualization of the Pure Land and of buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as the Buddhist cultivation of universal loving-kindness. The practices discussed in this chapter go beyond the strong textual focus of the practices discussed in the previous chapters, but they are still clearly thematic and devotional.

Much of what we know about friendship and interpersonal relations in the history of Jewish mystical tradition comes to us in the context of community, or more precisely within the context of intentional communities. On reflecting upon the nature of spiritual companionship in the seminal work of medieval Kabbalah, the Zohar, Arthur Green remarked that the mystical fellowship described as organized around the central figure of this literature, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, ‘is one of a series of such circles of Jewish mystics stretching back in time to Qumran, Jerusalem, Provence, and Gerona, and forward in history to Safed, Padua, Miedzybozh, Bratslav, and again to Jerusalem.’1


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It should come as no surprise that so much of Jewish mystical tradition is of a social and communal nature. In the first place, this is true of mystical traditions across cultures, from the Buddhist saṅgha, to Hindu ashrams, to Christian monasteries, to the Sufi tekke. Second, Judaism as a whole is aptly known for its embrace of social community, even by the requirement to live in community. As a result, there is no true history, for example, of hermetic or solitary religious life in Judaism, even in its mystical tradition. When we turn to the particular question of Jewish contemplative and meditative traditions, we thus find that while there are many techniques that focus entirely on the individual and utterly personal experience, there are numerous other techniques that are practiced, in one way or another, with others, in dependence on others or, at the very least, with other people in mind, contemplatively and imaginatively. In this chapter I explore one particular example of what I call ‘spiritual friendship’ as contemplative practice in kabbalistic and Hasidic tradition. This practice is rooted in the well-known injunction found in the Hebrew Bible to ‘love your fellow as yourself ’ (Leviticus 19.18).

The sixteenth-century kabbalistic brotherhood of Isaac Luria We begin in the sixteenth century, in the Galilean village of Safed (pronounced Tsfat). Safed was the scene of an extraordinary renaissance of kabbalistic life that occurred in the wake of the expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the last years of the fifteenth century. A very significant portion of these exiled Jews migrated to the lands of the Ottoman Empire, while others made their way to North Africa, Italy and elsewhere. When the Ottomans conquered most of the Near East between the years 1516–17, Jews who had settled in such Turkish centres as Adrianople, Edirne and Istanbul were now free to settle in the Land of Israel (as traditional Jews called it) under the generally benevolent rule of the Ottoman authorities. Between 1525 and 1600 Safed developed into a Jewish community of considerable importance, and became most well-known for its vibrant and creative kabbalistic culture, one that would exert incalculable influence upon Jewish religious life in the following centuries.2 One of the features of kabbalistic life in Safed was the development of a number of small intentional brotherhoods, or havurot, from the Hebrew word for friend or companion, haver. By far the most significant of these fellowships from an historical point of view was the circle of disciples who gathered around Isaac Luria (1534–72).3 Luria was the most influential kabbalist of the sixteenth century, and among the most influential figures in the whole history of Jewish mysticism. Born in Jerusalem, Luria emigrated to Egypt at a very young age with his mother following the death of his father. In Egypt, Luria became a rabbi, studying under the most prominent rabbinic authorities of the day. In his last several years in Egypt he engaged in contemplative seclusion on the Nile River. It is during this time that he appears to have begun to develop his highly distinctive kabbalistic ideas and practices. We know the names of approximately 40 individuals who became Luria’s disciples not long after he arrived in Safed in 1570. According to his chief disciple, Hayyim Vital (1543–1620), this fellowship

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


had an elaborate structure, as it was divided into four hierarchically ordered groups. The first, and most important, was composed of 11 men. It was to these individuals that Luria imparted his most esoteric kabbalistic teachings, and concerning whom he appears to have had the highest expectations for moral and spiritual attainments. From the evidence that we have, it is clear that Luria was exceedingly concerned with his disciples’ interpersonal relations, that they regard and treat one another with utmost consideration and love. He considered strife and jealousy among them as a critical impediment not only to accomplishing the goal of individual self-perfection, but as importantly, the goal of cosmic redemption to which his teachings were ultimately directed. Towards this end he enjoined his disciples to avoid sadness and anger, jealousy and pettiness. Moreover, he instructed them to contemplatively concentrate on loving one another as spiritual preparation for the daily communal prayer service in the morning (Shaharit). Thus in the words of Luria’s disciple Hayyim Vital: My teacher, may his memory be for a blessing, cautioned me and all the companions who were with him in this fellowship that before a person begins to pray in the synagogue .  .  . he must take upon himself the precept ‘.  .  . and you shall love your fellow as yourself . . .’ (Leviticus 19:18). And you should [contemplatively] concentrate upon loving every member of the House of Israel as you love yourself, on account of which your prayer will ascend, bound up with all the prayers of Israel. By this means you will enable your soul to rise above and effect cosmic healing (tikkun). And especially when it comes to the love for one’s companions (haverim) who study Torah with one another, each and every person must bind himself to the others as if he were one limb within the body of this fellowship. This is particularly important when you possess the knowledge and the insight with which to understand and apprehend your companion’s soul. And if there is one among you in distress, all must take it upon yourselves to share in his trouble, whether it has to do with some illness or with his children, God forbid. And you must all pray on his behalf. Similarly in all your prayers and petitions you should have your fellow disciples in mind. My teacher, of blessed memory, took great care to caution me about the love that we ought to bear towards our companions, the members of our brotherhood.4

The meditative instruction enjoined by Luria is in the form of a kavvanah. The Hebrew word kavvanah (plural, kavvanot) was originally a pre-kabbalistic, rabbinic term that denotes awareness and proper focus in the act of performing a religious precept, or mitsvah. In kabbalistic tradition, it assumes a more particular, technical meaning, referring to not merely proper focus or even heartfelt sincerity, but a discrete mental act of contemplative intentionality or concentration with some specific purpose in mind. Typically, that purpose entails some transformative outcome in accordance with kabbalistic theurgical processes. In this case, Luria instructs his disciples to concentrate on seeing themselves as a single part of an organic whole – in his words ‘one limb within the body of this fellowship’. A person is supposed to surrender his individual identity for the purpose of identifying completely with his fellowship of companions. The primary purpose in doing so is to join together the morning prayers


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that you are about to recite with those of your companion. This is so that one’s prayers ascend to God and brings about cosmic healing or restitution, in Lurianic parlance tikkun. Tikkun is one of the central mythical concepts in Lurianic Kabbalah, and it has multiple facets. Suffice it to say for our purposes that it refers to repairing the cosmic breach that took place during the primordial processes of divine self-revelation, or divine emanation, a process identified with nothing less than creation itself. Human transgression impedes such tikkun – indeed it contributes further to the primordial breach – whereas positive behaviour contributes to furthering the elaborate process of cosmic repair. Finally, there is a crucial, more earth-bound feature to this practice insofar as it is intended to make one mindful of one’s companions’ troubles, and to act in such a way as to help ameliorate them. This Lurianic kavvanah and its practice became the basis for a centuries-long tradition that appears in various formulations in an endless array of prayer books, guides to devotional practice, as well as other literary genres.5 As we shall see, this tradition endures to this day. In the rest of this chapter I focus primarily on two particularly important and interesting examples of the ways in which this tradition evolved. While both of these are from the eighteenth century, they developed in two very different cultural contexts and in parts of the Jewish world that were far removed from one another geographically: Jerusalem and Poland.

The Jerusalem fellowship of Bet El Lurianic teachings and devotional practices served as the basis for an unusual community of kabbalists in Jerusalem beginning in the first half of the eighteenth century. The ‘Pietists’ Study House of Bet El’ (Midrash Hasidim Bet El) was established in the year 1737 under the leadership of Rabbi Gedaliah Hayon.6 When Hayon died in 1751, the mantle of leadership was passed to Israel Algazi, an important scholar of Jewish law and Kabbalah. Upon the latter’s death in 1756, Shalom Mizrachi Sharabi (1720–77) became the head of Bet El. Sharabi was born in the city of Sana in Yemen, where the study of Kabbalah was exceedingly popular. While still a youth, Sharabi travelled to Jerusalem by way of Damascus. He developed a reputation not only as one of the most important rabbis of Jerusalem but also as the greatest kabbalist of Near Eastern and North African Jewry during his lifetime. As was the case with Isaac Luria, legends about Sharabi’s contemplative life and extraordinary piety proliferated. Sharabi was the author of a number of works of a Lurianic nature that over time exerted enormous influence, especially among Jews of the Near East, and to a lesser degree North Africa. His teachings were distinguished by a special focus on the devotional and contemplative instructions (kavvanot) of Lurianic mysticism that he developed in a distinctive and original way. The participants in the Bet El community employed these kavvanot in their own rigorous practice of Lurianic prayer. Calling themselves mekhavvenim (‘contemplatives’), the Bet El devotees cultivated the art of meditative prayer in more complex ways than had ever been done before. Mastery of these contemplative intentions over the course of many years of training, along

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


with an ascetic lifestyle, was the essential ingredient in their spiritual path.7 The community preserved and practiced the most recondite contemplative traditions of Lurianic Kabbalah well into the twentieth century – until the buildings that housed the community’s activities were destroyed in an earthquake in 1927. We are fortunate to possess fascinating documentary evidence concerning a particular circle of these individuals in the form of a series of four ‘contracts’ or ‘bills of association’.8 In the second of these documents, signed by 12 men in 1754, we encounter the Lurianic tradition discussed above. Led by Shalom Sharabi, the pact to which these individuals agreed obligated them to pledge uncompromising loyalty, love and brotherhood towards one another. Aptly, they referred to their fellowship by the name Ahavat Shalom (Love of Peace). Here are the opening words of this several page agreement: Since the Lord desires the return of those who repent, the spirit took hold of us, the young ones of the flock, the undersigned, to become as one person, companions, all for the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and his Shekhinah [divine Presence], in order to give satisfaction to our Creator. For this purpose we have made a pact, and the following conditions are completely binding upon us. First, we the undersigned, twelve of us, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Judah, agree to love one another with great love of soul and body, all for the purpose of giving satisfaction to our Creator through our single-minded association, although we are separate [as individual people]. Each man’s soul will be bound to that of his companion so that the twelve of us will be as one person greatly to be admired. Each of us will think of his companion as if the latter were part of his very limbs, with all his soul and all his might, so that if, God forbid, any one of us will suffer tribulation, all of us together and each of us separately will help him in every possible way.9

The intimate connection between this pledge and the Lurianic tradition is obvious. But the members of this particular kabbalistic brotherhood have gone further by obligating themselves contractually to such practice. The reference to the Shekhinah alludes to the feminine dimension of divinity in the kabbalistic mythic schema. According to this conception, aspects of the divine that are male and female in nature have been rent asunder as a consequence of human transgression. Only virtuous human deeds can restore divinity to its perfect primordial condition. In this case, restoration of divine unity requires unity among people, the companions who strive to see themselves as a single entity, a single organism. Just as Jewish tradition calls upon worshippers to love God with ‘all one’s soul and all one’s might’ (Deut. 6.4) similarly here the companions are to love one another with all their soul and all their might. As in the Lurianic tradition, members of this fellowship were to be utterly dedicated to one another’s spiritual and physical welfare, sharing in each other’s troubles and regarding one another as complete equals. While the formulation in this document is not specifically connected to the act of preparing for prayer, and does not have an explicit contemplative feature to it, these


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

are found in a version of the traditional prayer book containing Sharabi’s kabbalistic kavvanot: Before one begins to pray he must take upon himself the precept ‘and you shall love your fellow as yourself.’ And he should contemplate love for each member of the House of Israel as he loves himself so that his prayer ascends bound up with the prayers of all others. Similarly, with respect to one’s needs, he must join with others, and concern himself with their troubles [as if they were his own].10

The widespread influence of the Sharabi prayer book, Siddur ha-Rashash, ensured the dissemination of this kavvanah among kabbalists throughout the Near East. In another of his works, Nahar Shalom, Sharabi teaches that it is proper to recite this kavvanah before the ritual blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) near the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as is the custom among the worshippers of Bet El. Individuals should thus fulfil the precept of loving one’s neighbour by forgiving all others with a full heart, and by praying that no one should be punished for their transgressions on their account.11 Finally, in connection with Bet El, it is worth noting that Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (1724–1806), an exceedingly prominent student of Sharabi’s, and a highly influential disseminator of both Sharabi’s and Luria’s liturgical customs, repeatedly speaks of the Lurianic practice in his voluminous writings. As was the case with Sharabi, Azulai’s embrace of this kavvanah was very likely to have been responsible for its incorporation into numerous subsequent editions of the prayer book, including those produced by Hasidim in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.12

The Hasidic ‘school’ of Yehiel Mikhel of Zlotshov Hasidism refers to the popular, pietistic ‘revival’ movement that began in southeast Poland in the 1730s and which spread like wildfire across Poland and Russia through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The central figure in early Hasidism was Israel ben Eliezer (1700–60), more popularly known by his title, Baal Shem Tov, ‘Master of the Good Name’, and its acronym, BeSHT. Critical to the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings was the conviction that every Jew, regardless of one’s degree of religious literacy and learning, could live a rich and full devotional life by discovering the presence of God imminent in all reality. Divine ‘sparks’ are present in every sphere of existence, even in the ‘lowest rungs’ of the material world. Divine light may be concealed beneath the surface, but it is close by. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and become aware of the divine vitality that infuses all reality, to transform ordinary or ‘small’ consciousness (katnut) into expanded consciousness (gadlut). Prayer, study of Torah and performance of the religious precepts, are the most obvious vehicles through which to discover divine light. But even the most routine and mundane activities are also opportunities for discovering God, including the realm of the physical. Eating and drinking, sexual relations, business and commercial

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


activities and everyday interpersonal interactions, all of these serve as opportunities for heightened spiritual awareness and devotional experience. The Hasidim were fond of quoting a quintessential teaching of earlier Kabbalah: let atar panui leh, ‘there is no place devoid of God’. Even ‘distracting’ or transgressive thoughts (mahshavot zarot) have divine roots that make it possible to transform them into holiness. Taken to its logical conclusion such an assertion of radical divine imminence means that every moment represents an opportunity to discover divine light and to ‘return it to its source’ on high.13 In addition, classical Hasidism focused on the emotions, and taught that the most important emotion was that of joy. If God can be found everywhere, then joy is the most appropriate human feeling. In the pursuit of cultivating joy, Hasidism taught that intense, passionate song and dance in the context of religious devotion are critical, a fully embodied expression of the human spirit. In sum, it is this set of teachings that provided the basis for the embrace of Hasidism among vast numbers of eastern European Jews. Hasidism developed a wide range of contemplative and meditative practices, although these tend not to be formulated in highly systematic or formal ways. As is the case with earlier Kabbalah, many of these practices are directly tied to the regimen of daily and festival liturgical prayer, so central to traditional Jewish religious life. Prayer became in Hasidism the primary vehicle through which to achieve a state of expanded consciousness, referred to earlier by the term gadlut. The general goal of expanded consciousness was to ‘cleave’ to God, what Hasidism calls devekut (lit. cleaving). It is against this general background that we turn back to the Lurianic and Bet El practices with which we began. Among the Hasidim contemplating love for others as a prelude to daily prayer became widely practised in many circles. One particular ‘school’ of early Hasidism was critically influential in promoting this practice, that is, the teachings of the Hasidic master Yehiel Mikhel of Zlotshov (1726–81) and his disciples. Born in Galicia, Yehiel Mikhel had personally known both the Baal Shem Tov and the latter’s successor, Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch (1704–72). Yehiel Mikhel eventually became the most prominent Hasidic teacher in the area of eastern Galicia in the latter decades of his life. As we shall see, we learn about Yehiel Mikhel’s deep interest in the Lurianic practice from the writings of a number of his disciples and associates, as Yehiel Mikhel did not record his own teachings. According to Mor Altshuler, a decisive moment in the development of this practice took place in the spring of 1777 in the town of Brody during the festival of Shavuot, the ‘Feast of Weeks’. The kabbalistic celebration of the evening with which the festival begins, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, became an occasion at which Yehiel Mikhel and his disciples sought to bind their souls to one another through the medium of their rebbe: ‘The lengthy discourse delivered by R. Yehiel Mikhel in his prayer house on Shavuot of [the Hebrew year] 5537 (1777) is tightly bound up with the commitment to linkage that he and his disciples took upon themselves.’14 The most substantial evidence derives from one of his most important disciples, an individual who became an influential Hasidic teacher in his own right, Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zbarzh (b. ca. 1745–d.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

ca. 1795).15 In one of the many epistles that he wrote to a group of Hasidim who had immigrated in the year 1777 to the Land of Israel, Heller describes this practice: The words of a [person’s] prayer ascend by means of the person binding himself to others by uttering ‘I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment to love your fellow as yourself.’ By doing so one binds oneself, through love, to the holy souls of the righteous ones of the generation (tsaddikim she’bador), whose likenesses he is familiar with and whom he then envisions at that very moment in his mind. For this is a powerful spiritual practice and has great benefit (segulah ve-to’elet gadol), as explained in [the book] Hesed le-Avraham.16

Meshullam Feibush goes on to describe his teacher’s practice in the following terms: And, indeed, I heard from the mouth of the holy one, the saintly rabbi, our teacher Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel, may his memory always be a blessing, that before each prayer he would recite [the words] ‘I am binding myself to all Israel – with those greater than myself, so that my thoughts will ascend through them, as well as with lesser individuals so that they will ascend through me.’ This is what I heard [directly] from his holy mouth.17

Here we have several striking variations to the original Lurianic practice. Meshullam Feibush’s description emphasizes binding oneself (Hebrew, histkashrut) to ‘the holy souls of the righteous ones of the generation’. The allusion to ‘righteous ones’ refers to Hasidic masters. One of the most innovative and characteristic features of Hasidism was the Hasidic master, known as the rebbe or as a tsaddik, literally a ‘righteous’ individual. A rebbe or tsaddik was a charismatic leader of one or another particular Hasidic sect. Following the death of the aforementioned Dov Baer in 1772, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid’s numerous disciples fanned out across various parts of Eastern Europe and cultivated particular Hasidic communities, each becoming a rebbe or tsaddik to that community. Thus, to be a hasid came to mean to be a disciple of a particular rebbe. Hasidim identified themselves not only with the larger movement but also with their personal rebbe and their fellow disciples. Thus, when our passage refers to binding oneself to the righteous ones of the generation, something quite specific is intended. Bind yourself to those individuals who themselves stand in the most intimate relationship with God, individuals who are considered capable of sustaining a near continuous state of attachment, that is, a state of devekut, ‘cleaving’ to God. In this context, the terms histkashrut and devekut are synonymous. By this means one’s prayers and soul will become purified and rise above to God. While our text speaks of righteous ones in the plural, it is altogether likely that it is Yehiel Mikhel himself to whom Meshullam Feibush refers. In the original Lurianic tradition, there is no sense that including your prayers with those of others is necessary by virtue of finding yourself in a spiritually inferior state. Here, though, we have exactly that. ‘Lesser individuals’ have the opportunity to have their prayers lifted up by means of attaching themselves to spiritually superior ones, namely, the tsaddik. This works both ways, however, for Yehiel Mikhel is also described as attaching himself to those ‘greater than myself ’.

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


The other important innovation provided here is the instruction to contemplatively visualize the faces of those righteous ones with whom one is familiar. Elsewhere, Meshullam Feibush speaks of such visualization in the following way: ‘Thus, the image [of a person] in one’s thought is a spiritual extension of the person one has seen, though he is not [physically] present. And when love for that person is aroused, the love connects and unites one with the person whose image is in his mind.’18 Meshullam Feibush provides a fascinating explanation of how spiritual bonding occurs despite the fact that the individuals involved are not physically in the same place. He compares it to other types of love in which people connect to one another even though they are separated physically: When, for example, a person is aroused to love his son, even though the son is not present, the father’s love burns in his heart. That aroused love connects the soul of both of them in that moment, even though they are separated from each other. There are two reasons for this. First, when it comes to non-physical matters (beruhaniyut) distance is not relevant . . . Second, and this is connected to the first, love can only occur between two people who know each other, who have seen each other face to face . . . Then when they see each other [once again] and are joined together in love, each one’s image is inscribed in the other’s thought, and every thought is a complete structure.19

Meshullam goes on to make the point that people are inclined to believe that only what occurs in the realm of the physical world is actual or real. But in his view the truth is quite the reverse. The less corporeal a phenomenon is the more real it is and the greater its potential impact. This is rooted in the Hasidic conviction that what is truly real is the spiritual, namely, the divine light that is at the heart of all existence. If this is the case, then spiritual forces have infinite power, including the psychic powers of the mind, which, after all, are nothing but divine in nature. Human thought ‘is a power that is higher than the body. It begins in the body and continues beyond it in every place where a person wishes to extend it’.20 The inference is that the individual souls that one imagines, and upon which one focuses his contemplative concentration, are more real than physical bodies. As long as one has the image of his teacher implanted in his mind and imagines his face, he is in a position to bind their souls together: Consequently, this mental image is the spiritual form of that person whom he saw; only it was concealed within him. When love is aroused for him, that love connects and unites him with the image that is in his heart. And the numerical equivalent (gematria) for [the Hebrew word] for ‘love’ is ‘one’.21

Moreover, according to Meshullam Feibish, binding oneself to one’s teacher or to the tsaddikim more generally, is what makes one’s prayer effective, especially if you find yourself in a diminished spiritual state. Effective prayer requires vitality, but what if you lack sufficient vitality to sustain such prayer? The solution to this problem is hitkashrut, contemplatively uniting your mind and soul with the tsaddikim. In this way


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

your prayer is able to ascend through being included with the prayers of tsaddikim, just as you yourself can help elevate the prayers of those below you in a diminished state. Having said this, in the passages quoted above, Meshullam Feibush seems to teach that such contemplative visualization can take place between all individuals who know one another. This technique of visualization is attested to as well in a manuscript in the possession of another of Yehiel Mikhel’s disciple, Tsvi Hasid, but with an important additional feature. According to this, there is a reciprocal relationship between teacher and disciple by way of contemplative visualization. A disciple who depicts his teacher in his mind – and concentrates on the love that he feels for him – causes his teacher to visually imagine his disciple in return! ‘And you, too, will take an active part in this prayer. When you think of me, your image will simultaneously appear in my thoughts, and I will pray on your behalf.’22 In this view, there is a reciprocal psychic connection between master and disciple. The text from which this is drawn is more generally concerned with the importance of communing with a tsaddik so that the latter can carry out his task of elevating his disciples’ prayers, and purifying them of ‘distracting thoughts’ (mahshavot zarot). Visualization in connection with the contemplation of love for others is described as well by Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk (c. 1730–88), among the most prominent disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. Menahem Mendel led a group of Hasidim who immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1777, to which we referred earlier. In letters sent to friends and colleagues back home, Menahem Mendel informs them that those who have settled in the Galilee are practicing the love of their brethren by contemplatively visualizing them. Menahem Mendel appears to have been motivated by the strong desire to maintain connection to his colleagues and his followers in spite of the vast physical distance between them. Thus, he has in mind a whole community of fellow Hasidim rather than a single teacher. In one of the letters, sent in 1782, a few months after the death of Yehiel Mikhel, we find the following: [We are practicing the contemplative love of one’s fellow] in order that they will know with certainty that their love [i.e. our companions afar] is planted in our hearts, and that their souls are intertwined with ours, individually and collectively. It will be as if their images are perpetually before us, so that we may mention them with favour whenever we turn to the Lord God, with great and everlasting love, calling forth upon them a wealth of blessings and success.23

The depth of Menahem Mendel’s emotions concerning his disciples is further attested to in this same letter: My dear ones, my friends, my brethren . . . ‘More than the calf desires to suck, the cow desires to give suck’ (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 112a), and all my desire and the yearning of my love towards each of you is many thousands of times greater than yours towards me, and each one is engraved on the tablet of my heart, as a sign upon my hand, and as a memorial between my eyes, directed always towards the Lord as if their likeness stands before me so that I may recognize their

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


appearance, while their hearts, their nature and quality and the sum total of all their concerns stands revealed.24

I want to briefly describe a couple of additional variations of this practice as espoused by other teachers. Ze’ev Wolf of Zhitomir (d. before 1798), the author of a book entitled Or ha-Meir (The Light that Illuminates), and an associate as well of Yehiel Mikhel, gives an account of a supposed dialogue between the Baal Shem Tov and a certain sage, identified merely as ‘the Wise One of the generation’. The view expressed in this particular context represents an altogether inclusive and universal approach by affirming that the Wise One seeks to unite himself in prayer to all living beings: I heard the following in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, may his memory be for a blessing in the life of the world to come. Once he asked the Wise One of the generation with respect to prayer, ‘How do you act, and to where do you direct your contemplative thought during prayer?’ He replied, ‘I bind myself to each and every created living being, for in everything within the realm of creation there must be a vitality suffused with the divine. I bind myself to them in order to utter words before God and to raise on high the most profound of request.’25

This more inclusive affirmation is also attested in the writing of Aryeh Leib Epstein (1708–75), a Polish rabbi with a kabbalistic orientation. In his commentary on a version of the Hebrew prayer book in accordance with Lurianic liturgical customs, he teaches that in addition to contemplating the love of one’s fellow Jews before beginning to pray, one is also supposed ‘to love the stranger’ (ger).26 Most Hasidic teachers who espouse our practice echo Isaac Luria’s original formulation that speaks of loving all of the people of Israel. According to Avraham Hayyim of Zlotshov (1750–1816), yet another disciple of Yehiel Mikhel, a devotee should face Jerusalem in prayer insofar as all Jews turn in that direction when they pray. In this way a person’s prayer will be bound up with that of all other fellow Jews: Before praying one must connect oneself with all Israel . . . And so I have accepted the practice of reciting before each prayer service, morning and evening: ‘I hereby dispatch my prayer from here to the Land of Israel, from the Land of Israel to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount, from the Temple Mount to the Courtyard [of the ancient Temple], from the Courtyard to the Hall, from the Hall to the Sanctuary, from the Sanctuary to the Holy of Holies, and from the Holy of Holies to the Sanctuary of the Sapphire Pavement, to the very place where my patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob prayed. I hereby send my prayer from here to the Land of Israel . . . with all the prayers of the prayer houses and study houses and the unifications of all Israel. And especially with Your sons who know the kavvanot of prayer and its mysteries. With this intention, I pray in awe and love, and love and awe in the name of all Israel. Thus the great ones have instructed me to say before every prayer [service]. [My prayers are thus sent] together with the prayers of the synagogues and study halls of all Israel, and especially with those of your children who know the [true] intent of prayer and its [kabbalistic] secrets.’27


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Avraham Hayyim is thus promoting another type of imaginative act. While he does not explicitly employ the language of visualization, his approach clearly entails dramatic visual images. He has adapted a much older rabbinic tradition (Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Berachot 4.5; Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 30a) regarding the proper direction of one’s prayers. This tradition instructs those who pray to direct their attention to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Out of the desire to bind oneself in love to all Jews, he instructs worshippers to concentrate on the geography of the Land of Israel, namely, Jerusalem and the sacred Temple that once stood there. This would have been a truly imaginary act since the Temple to which he refers no longer exists physically, having been destroyed in 70 ce in the war against Rome. But it has always continued to exist in the imagination of traditional Jews. For the Hasidism the physical geography and structures of the Temple would have been altogether vivid in their memory and imagination.

Contemplative visualization in other religious traditions: Islam and Buddhism Insofar as visualization is an intrinsic feature of the Hasidic materials that we have surveyed, it will be worth our while to explore, at least briefly, a couple of examples from other religious traditions for purposes of comparison. In Islamic Sufi tradition the veneration of saints plays an exceedingly significant role.28 Many Sufis, especially among the widely spread Qadiriyah and Naqsbandiyah sects,29 performed what was known as ‘spiritual communion with a shaykh’ by means of contemplatively concentrating on the image of a shaykh, living or dead.30 This was done in a state of solitude as preparation for the practice of dhikr, that is, consciousness of God. According to the Egyptian Sufi master Ibn Ata Allah (c. 1252–1309), it was incumbent upon a disciple ‘to imagine his shaykh between his eyes, to draw him into his heart, and believe that by doing so he draws upon the spiritual essence of the Prophet [Muhammad] represented by the shaykh.’31 Such a practice is said to result in cleaving to one’s master, and through it, one attains a state of mystical inspiration. Najm al-din Kubra (1145–1221), an influential Iranian Sufi who studied in Egypt, describes how in the course of such practice he was able to ask his master questions concerning proper devotion to God, and to hear his answers. In a way that is reminiscent of a practice developed by Isaac Luria and his disciples in the sixteenth century – in which a devotee would lie prostrate on the grave of a past teacher with whom he had soul-kinship – some Sufis would similarly visit their teacher’s grave for purposes of uniting and communing with his departed soul. For example, according to Abd Allah Alharad (d. 1490): The purpose of revelation at gravesites is to imaginatively depict the spirit of the deceased in a form that resembles his ethereal image. One who experiences such a revelation will envision the deceased with his inner eye.32

These examples have certain similarities to our Hasidic practice, particularly with respect to the emphasis we have seen on visualizing one’s rebbe or tsaddik. Love of one’s

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


teacher is implied in the language ‘to draw him into his heart’, and reciprocity between student and teacher is described in the practice of Najm al-din Kubra. And the concept of unification between the souls of individuals is present in both the Hasidic and Sufi traditions. On the other hand, the Sufi traditions limit this type of practice to one’s master, whereas we have seen contemplative visualization applied more expansively in Hasidic tradition. In the latter the notion of unity and unification – rooted in the earlier Lurianic conception – applies to all fellow Jews, and at least in one example ‘to each and every created being’. The other example we wish to adduce derives from Buddhism, where various traditions include visualization techniques. ‘Pure Land Buddhism’ is a form of Mahāyāna tradition that focuses on the Buddha of Infinite Light known as Amida (in Japanese) or Amitābha or Amitāyus (in Sanskrit).33 According to the three primary Pure Land sūtras, the Pure Land is a realm of paradise in the incalculably distant ‘west’ that awaits the virtuous after death. Buddha Amitābha presides over this far off Western world of bliss. To achieve rebirth in the Pure Land, the sūtras encourage monks and layman alike to engage in a variety of practices, including right conduct, construction of stūpa (relic monuments), as well as contemplation and meditation. Some time in the third to fourth century, Pure Land tradition adopted recitative and visualization techniques as central features of its practice. In the Sūtra on Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life devotees who seek rebirth are exhorted to visualize in vivid detail the Pure Land itself, Amitābha, his attendant bodhisattvas and the Buddha himself: Why [visualize] the Buddha? Because Buddhas, Tathāgatas, have cosmic bodies, and so enter into the meditating mind of each [meditating] sentient being. For this reason, when you contemplate a Buddha, your mind itself takes the form of his thirty-two characteristics .  .  . Your mind produces the Buddha’s image, and is itself the Buddha. The ocean of perfectly and universally enlightened Buddhas thus arises in the meditating mind.34

To be sure, the historical and cultural contexts and Weltanschauung of Pure Land Buddhism and Hasidism could not be more different from one another. And the relatively simple Hasidic visualization technique we have described cannot compare to the highly elaborately drawn visualizations of Pure Land. Still, it seems to me there is an undeniable underlying similarity insofar as in both instances practitioners contemplatively bring to mind the images of their teachers for the purpose of uniting themselves in an intimate and ultimate way.

Contemplative love of others in Buddhist tradition As a further comparison, we have seen that the theme that unifies the various iterations of the Lurianic practice is the foundational exhortation to meditate on the love of others, be it a particular group of comrades, all fellow Jews, one’s rebbe or, at least in one example, all sentient beings. Here, too, Buddhist tradition provides a most significant and worthwhile comparison. One of the characteristic features of the


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Pāli Canon is the tradition of mettā, usually translated as loving-kindness. Mettā is one of four mental states that practitioners are called upon to cultivate, along with compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. From the numerous Buddhist scriptures that teach the practice of mettā, we cite the Mettā Sutta: This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace . . . They should wish: In gladness and in safety May all beings be at ease Whatever living beings there may be, Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born, May all beings be at ease . . .35

Here again, comparison is fraught with risk given the vast differences between Hasidic and Buddhist traditions. This is particularly true in light of the absolute universalism that informs the Buddhist approach. The few more inclusive examples we have adduced notwithstanding, Hasidism is very much a product of the particular and ‘parochial’ sense of identity that informs so much of pre-modern Judaism. Nevertheless, the exhortation to love others, and the kabbalistic and Hasidic meditative practice of ‘loving your fellow as yourself ’, rooted in the most ancient of Hebrew teaching, bears a fundamental similarity to the tradition of Buddhist mettā. This is in keeping with a wide range of other kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions that speak to spiritual friendship and loving-kindness in various ways.

Conclusions As suggested earlier, the kabbalistic and Hasidic practices discussed here have continued over time, primarily as a result of finding their way into versions of the traditional prayer book informed by kabbalistic contemplative intentions (kavvanot). These primarily include prayer books that adopted one or another version of the so-called Lurianic (liturgical) tradition (Nusach ha-Ari). The visualization techniques that have been described do not appear in these prayer books. Instead, we find different articulations of the original Lurianic practice. I want to offer three examples. The first is non-Hasidic, the second originates in Hasidic tradition and the third is from the contemporary Reconstructionist movement. In Siddur Avodat ha-Kodesh, a traditional prayer book that represents the typical liturgical rites of Sephardim and Edot ha-Mizrach, that is, Jews of Spanish origin and Near Eastern origin, we have the following:

Spiritual Friendship as Contemplative Practice


[Instructions of] Matok D’vash (a modern guide to kavvanot): Before a person begins to pray in the synagogue, just prior to the recitation of the ‘sacrifice of Isaac’ (Genesis 22), he should take upon himself the precept ‘and you shall love your fellow as yourself,’ with the intention of loving all fellow Jews (B’nei Yisrael) as one loves oneself. By this means his prayer will ascend and be included with all of the prayers of Israel, such that they can rise above and bear fruit. [Recitation of the Kavvanah]: I hereby take upon myself the precept ‘and you shall love your fellow as yourself.’ And I hereby [affirm my] love of every fellow Jew as I do my own soul and might. With this [in mind] I seek to utter my prayer before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.36

The second example is from a prayer book entitled Tefillah Yeshara that includes the Lurianic-oriented commentary Keter Nehora. This particular Hasidic prayer book was originally published in the Ukrainian city of Berditchev, and was graced with a statement of ‘approval’ by the famous Hasidic teacher, Levi Yitshak of Berditchev (1740–1809). On this account, it is sometimes referred to as the Berditchever prayer book. It preserves the following simple kavvanah: ‘I hereby take upon myself the positive precept “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” With this [in mind] I contemplatively intend to render myself a vessel for holiness (kiseh le-kedusha).’37 Let me conclude with one final example from a contemporary prayer book entitled Kol Haneshamah. This is the 1994 liturgy of the Reconstructionist movement in America; a movement characterized by a liberal, progressive approach, as evidenced by the following universalistic, humanistic language: For the sake of the union of the blessed Holy One with the Shehinah, I stand here, ready in body and mind, to take upon myself the mitzvah, ‘You shall love your fellow human being as yourself,’ and by this merit may I open up my mouth. Commentary. This kavanah before the morning service was introduced by the kabbalists of Safed. Only by accepting upon ourselves the obligation to love others as ourselves are we allowed to enter the human community of prayer. It is as members of that community, and specifically as Jews, that we come before God in worship.38

This contemporary text expresses a universalized version of the contemplative practice linked to the love of one’s spiritual companions. Rooted in the particularity of identity and tradition, contemporary Jewish sensibility leads to a deep sense of kinship with, and concern for, all humanity.

Part III



Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts Per Rönnegård Lund University

The modern term meditation started as a Latin translation of the Greek word melétē. In this chapter, Per Rönnegård traces some of the earliest uses of the Greek term. He shows in concrete detail how meditation in the early Christian ascetic context was mostly connected to recitation, taking as its object a large variety of texts of varying degrees of sacredness (holy scripture, other sayings and teachings, prayers, etc.). He also argues that active imagination (of the cross of Christ, one’s own death, the final judgement, etc.) and other forms of close attention played an important role. He traces these practices partly to Early Hebrew recitative meditation, but more directly to Greek philosophical schools. Despite important differences, the uses of melétē in Greek philosophy display a number of parallels to the Christian practices. In both cases, meditation was conceived as a discursive and concentrative way of digesting and interiorizing a message, to overcome distractions and eventually to reach the final goal, whether that be liberty, happiness, virtue or, in Christianity, salvation.

The words ‘meditation’ and ‘meditate’ in modern Western languages are based on the Latin terms meditatio and meditare. The use of the terms to denote a monastic and spiritual practice in Latin Christianity came originally with the translation of Greek texts where the counterparts were melétē and meletán, and with John Cassian’s Latin transmission of the Egyptian monastic tradition. The word meditatio was then used to denote diverse Christian practices through the centuries, and later it also became a term used to describe practices in other religions. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate the very earliest uses of the term melétē in Christian monastic texts, and to attempt to specify what kind of practice it denoted at that time. I will often use ‘meditation’ and ‘meditate’ as translations of the Greek terms for the sake of convenience. The reason for using citation-marks for ‘meditation’ and ‘meditate’ is to remind the reader that the connotations of later developments of the term meditatio are not necessarily implied. Focus will be on some of the earliest sources, mainly connected to fourth- to sixth-century Palestine: the works of Evagrius


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

of Pontus (active in Egypt in the fourth century, with close links to Palestine), the major Greek collections of Apophthegmata patrum (the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, probably collected in Gaza in the late fifth century), the correspondence of Barsanuphius of Gaza and John the Prophet (early sixth century) and the writings of Dorotheus of Gaza (a disciple of Barsanuphius and John). After a short summary of findings in those texts, a comparison will be made with Greek philosophical texts, to show that not only the Hebrew Bible, but those texts as well, are relevant to an understanding of the development of the practice of melétē.

Melétē in lists of ascetic practices and virtues Melétē and meletán were originally very general terms that could mean ‘caring for’, ‘attending to’, ‘practising’ or ‘using’ something.1 However, there are many examples in Christian ascetic texts of the use of melétē and meletán where there is no object indicated, that is, they describe the act of melétē without specifying what it was related to. Those examples give us an indication that the terms had become, or were becoming, termini technici. This absolute use of the terms mostly occurs in lists of ascetic practices, especially in the collections of Apophthegmata patrum. The following is a summary of the lists: work, obedience and ‘meditation’2 ‘meditation’, psalmody and manual labour3 freedom from care, silence and the hidden ‘meditation’4 silence, not being anxious about anything and being attentive about one’s ‘meditation’5 (little Hours), little fast, prayer, ‘meditation’ and silence6 manual labour, eating once a day, silence and ‘meditation’7 prayer, ‘meditation’ and psalmody8 memory of death, ‘meditation’9 spiritual hymns and ‘meditation’10 manual labour, ‘meditation’ and some prayer11 join prayer to his ‘meditation’12 prays, ‘meditates’, does a little manual labour and takes heed of his thoughts13 The content of the lists is far from consistent, and there is no combination which stands out as being more frequent, but all the lists treat ‘meditation’ as being one of several ascetic practices, not just a generic name for any kind of ascetic exercise. And the frequency at which it was included in such lists, without any further explanation, suggests that it was a well-known practice. The lists also show that the practice was something distinct from the exercises of psalmody, Hours, prayer and taking heed of one’s thoughts. So what did one actually do in this specific exercise?

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


How Melétē was performed We have very few examples in our texts of actual descriptions of ‘meditation’. There are a few which indirectly tell us something about the practice. In one saying (AP/GS XVIII.19, N567) an abba is said to have recited (apostēthizein) a part of scripture on his way to church, and while walking and ‘meditating’ in this way, he did not move his lips, in order that no one should hear him – presumably to avoid ostentation. Since the saying points out that the abba closes his lips in order not to be heard, we can assume that the common way to ‘meditate’ is to recite something aloud.14 In this instance a part of scripture is recited silently while the monk is walking to church. That it is a form of recitation, repeating by memory, is very clear in this example, since the parallel expression apostēthizein means just that. Barsanuphius of Gaza is actually asked by an inquirer whether it is good to do ‘meditation’ or pray without the tongue cooperating completely. He replies that those who are not capable of keeping up their concentration on God should gather themselves and join their ‘meditation’ to the tongue also (Quaestiones, Letter 431).15 This suggests, again, that the words could be said aloud, but that for the more advanced practitioner it could also be a quiet exercise. Another example of ‘meditation’ accompanying a physical activity is described in Achillas 5, where abba Achillas is heard ‘meditating’ on a biblical verse. The visitors knock on the door, and he tells them he has been weaving ropes since the evening before. The ‘meditation’ is said aloud, and is combined with doing repetitive manual work. In AP/G Apollo 2 the prayer ‘I have sinned as a human, may you as God forgive’ is said continually, and it becomes a ‘meditation’ day and night. In this apophthegm the ‘meditation’ involves doing variations on that theme. A brother living together with him hears him saying ‘I have done ill against you, God. Forgive me so that I may receive a little peace’. Barsanuphius tells a brother in one of his letters to ‘meditate’ not only with the mouth but also in deeds, indicating that saying the words to oneself and putting them into practice were two sides of the same thing: making the insights contained in the words an integrated part of one’s person and life (Quaestiones, Letter 115). Dorotheus says that his disciples should always ‘meditate’ by heart, again indicating that it was a performance of a memorized text (Doctrinae diversae 60.27, see Regnault and Préville, 2001). In one saying, which is not typical of this material, a brother receives the advice to say the words ‘Son of God, have mercy on me’ whenever approached by a demon. The brother complains that although he does his ‘meditation’, it has no effect on him, since he does not understand the sense of the words. The brother is told to just go on doing his ‘meditation’. . .  . ‘You see, I “meditate”, abba, but there is no compunction in my heart, for I do not know the sense of the utterance.’ [The abba] answered: ‘Just continue “meditating”. For I have heard Abba Poimen and many of the other fathers saying this: the charmer does not have knowledge of the sense of the words he utters, but the beast hears them and knows the sense of the utterance and obeys. So it is with

Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam


us: even if we do not understand what we say, the demons listen in fear and flee.’ (AP/GS V.37, N 184)16

The brother doing his ‘meditation’ is compared to someone putting a spell on an animal, without understanding the words. It is obvious that in this particular apophthegm, ‘meditation’ involves uttering words, and that the important thing is the uttering, not understanding or contemplating their meaning.17 In all of these examples, ‘meditation’ is a matter of reciting a given text aloud or silently over time. Sometimes it can be accompanied by a physical activity such as walking or weaving ropes. The practice is done on an individual basis, although the practitioner is sometimes overheard by others. And it is a self-administered practice, although initial instructions are typically given by an abba to a disciple.

The content of ‘meditation’ Often ‘meditation’ is mentioned without any further details about what texts or ideas were used for the exercise. Sometimes, however, we get a description of what the actual content of the ‘meditation’ is.

The Bible Most commonly, the content of ‘meditation’ is parts of the Bible. Sometimes this is stated in very general terms: the psalms should be used for melétē (AP/GS V.53), or a portion of scripture (AP/GS XVIII.19), or the reading of scripture as a whole (AP/GS XVIII.49). Evagrius also gives instructions about the ‘meditation’ on scripture. Out of fear become conversant with the divine scriptures on a daily basis, for by association with these you will drive away converse with thoughts. He who by ‘meditation’ treasures the divine scriptures in his heart easily expels thoughts from it. (Ad Eulogius 19.20, tr. Sinkewicz, 2003)

Here, the storing up of scripture in the heart is a result of ‘meditation’, and the store of texts which have been learnt by heart in turn becomes an effective weapon against distracting thoughts (logismoí). Barsanuphius of Gaza tells a former soldier to always be vigilant in the ‘meditation’ of the divine law (Quaestiones, Letter 498), and John the Prophet says that a characteristic of repentance is ‘meditation’ on the word of God (Letter 730). An elderly monk is told by Barsanuphius to ‘meditate’ on a number of biblical texts he has cited (Letter 115). In another letter he writes ‘Blessed is the person that “meditates” on these things’, probably referring to some biblical verses he has cited, and to some exhortations he has given (Letter 187). He replies to a brother who asks what he ought to ‘meditate’ (on) when he serves at liturgy. The reply is very detailed, full of biblical images, and the brother is told ‘“meditate” [on] these things’ (Letter 241).

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


There are also several instances where the content of the ‘meditation’ is a specific verse of the Bible.18 Possibly we should see also the more general descriptions of doing ‘meditation’ on scripture in light of the more specified examples: doing ‘meditation’ on scripture was perhaps always a matter of conducting the practice in relation to a specific biblical passage.

Sayings and letters of the fathers and letters of the authors Dorotheus mentions in his speeches to disciples another set of texts to be used for ‘meditation’: the Gerontikon, that is, Apophthegmata patrum, the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers: You know also that it is written in the Gerontikon: ‘From our neighbour comes life and death.’19 So always ‘meditate’ [on] these [words] by heart, brothers; practise the words of the holy fathers; with love and fear of God, be zealous about seeking what is good for yourselves and for each other. (Doctrinae 60) If we kept in our memory, brothers, the words of the holy fathers, if we constantly ‘meditated’ [on] them, it would be difficult for us to sin and to neglect ourselves. (Doctrinae 69)

Besides the Bible, and apophthegmata, there is one other group of texts that is recommended for ‘meditation’, and that is the texts written by the spiritual fathers of Gaza themselves. Barsanuphius tells John of Beersheba to always ‘meditate’ on everything he has written to him, and gives further authority to his advice by citing what Moses says to the people in Deuteronomy about the law of God, but in a slightly altered version and letting the biblical citation refer not to the ‘law of God’, but to his own letters to John: ‘Bind them to your right hand . . . and “meditate” [on] them when you lie down and when you stand up, when you travel and when you sit at home (Deut 6:7–8)’ (Quaestiones Letter 11).20 John of Beersheba is told that what Barsanuphius has written is enough for him, that the words are sufficient to bring him from the stage of the beginner to perfection, and that he should ‘meditate’ on them and remember them and not forget them since they contain a whole library (Letter 32). In another letter, Barsanuphius tells the same John to ‘meditate’ on all the letters he has written to him (Letter 53). Barsanuphius also prays for a monk named Andrew that he will always ‘meditate’ on the words he has written (Letter 103). He tells a brother, ‘Keep my commandments, or rather the commandments of God. “Meditate” [on] these things’ (Letter 239). And he tells another brother (probably Dorotheus) to tread on the passions, and always ‘meditate’ on his letter. Dorotheus also suggests his own writings for melétē: Question: When my thought rejoices over these words [the letter from Dorotheus] and wants to become like that, why is it that I do not find [them] available at the moment when it is time to act? Answer: Because you do not always ‘meditate’ [on] them. If you want to have them at that moment [when it is time to act], ‘meditate’ [on] them always, remain in


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam them, and I trust God that you will make progress. Join prayer to your ‘meditation’. (Epistula 4, 189.4f).

The sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers could be used for ‘meditation’, just like a Bible text, and a text by the Gaza authors themselves could be used for the same purpose. It is worth noting that the last quotation shows, as several other texts do, that ‘meditation’ was a matter of preparation for what is later enacted, it was a matter of being transformed by the words and having them at hand when they were needed.

Other words and mental images As was mentioned above, there is a saying where a brother is told to combat passion by pronouncing ‘Son of God, have mercy on me’. The brother responds that he already does this ‘meditation’ (AP/GS V.37, N 184).21 The phrase has counterparts in Matthew 15.25 with parallels (‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.’), but should be seen as an independent phrase, an early example of the Jesus Prayer (Hausherr, 1978).22 In AP/G Apollo 2 the words to be used for ‘meditation’ carry much of the same force, and may also be seen as a forerunner to the Jesus prayer: ‘I have sinned as a human, may you as God forgive.’ In Vices, Evagrius mentions the practice of ‘meditation’ on the cross, which we may interpret as ‘meditation’ on that mental image, or on texts about the cross. He also has passages where the object of ‘meditation’ is something negative, for example, ‘meditation’ on evil thoughts. Of these, the most interesting passage is one where he suggests that wandering monks meditate on false words: The wandering monk will ‘meditate’ on false utterances, he will reason falsely with his own father. (Ad Monachos 81)

Here, once again, it is obvious that ‘meditation’ is something one does with words, and Evagrius stresses the importance of the choice of words to be used.

Death, the things to come and the things above We find many instances of monks being instructed to remember their own death, in order to be transformed. This practice, going back to Plato, is often called a ‘meditation’ on death, or a remembrance (mnēme) of death. For Evagrius, to ‘meditate’ on death is something closely connected to bodily ascesis. He writes: He who withers the flower of the flesh with ascesis daily ‘meditates’ on his own death in the flesh. Let the accounting of the heart take the measure of the body, lest when the latter is struck the former too may grow weary. Let the flesh be satisfied with restraining the natural appetites. Let your bodily exercise be managed in the

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


context of your morals in order that you may learn to work the heart and work the soul together in the labours of asceticism. (Ad Eulogium 18.19, tr. Sinkewicz, 2003, slightly modified. The last five words are a clarifying addition by Sinkewicz.)

The work of the body and the inner work are closely connected in the pairs ascesis – ‘meditation’ on death, heart – body, bodily exercise – morals, work the heart – work the soul. He writes something similar in Praktikos: Separating body from soul belongs solely to the one who joined them together; but separating soul from body belongs also to one who longs for virtue. Our fathers call anachoresis a ‘meditation’ on death and a flight from the body. (Praktikos 52, tr. Sinkewicz, 2003, slightly modified)

The anachoresis, or withdrawal from ordinary life that the monk undertook, is here described as a combination of two acts: one undertaken by the body, the other by the soul. The idea of the virtuous philosopher separating soul from body is found already in Plato (Phaedo 67CD), together with the practice of ‘meditation’ on death (Phaedo 67DE and 80E–81A).23 John the Prophet writes to a brother, in a correspondence about the free will, that from a constant ‘meditation’ on death one learns to do good by one’s own free will (Letter 639). This practice of thinking of one’s own death and mortality is mentioned in numerous other letters, but usually referred to as the ‘remembrance’ of death (hē mnēmē tou thanátou). A variation of the ‘meditation’ on death is the ‘meditation’ on the judgement day. Ammonas teaches that the soul should condemn itself, saying ‘Woe to me! How can I stand in front of the tribunal seat of Christ, and how will I defend myself?’ He finishes by saying: ‘If you always “meditate” in this way, you may be saved’ (AP/GS III.4, G Ammonas 1). And Barsanuphius gives the advice to John of Beersheba to stretch out towards the things that lie in front of him and to always ‘meditate’ on them.24

Analogies We find a couple of analogies used to illustrate what ‘meditation’ is, and they may help our inquiry. One analogy is that of singing. Abba Hyperechios said: ‘May a spiritual hymn be on your lips and may “meditation” lighten the burden of the temptations that come upon you. A clear analogy to this is a traveller who is heavily loaded and who by singing deprives the journey of its weariness.’ (AP/GS VII.27)

Doing ‘meditation’ makes the burden of temptations lighter for the monk, just like singing makes the burden of luggage lighter for a traveller. In both cases, the burden does not disappear, but the effect of it is lessened.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

The practice of ‘meditation’ is described in very concrete terms in passages that compare it to the rumination of animals. The idea is expressed in the following saying, although the word ‘meditation’ is not used: One of the Fathers said: ‘The pure animal, says [scripture], ruminates its nourishment and has a split hoof (Lev 11:3). So it is for a man who believes well and who receives the two Testaments  – which he finds in the holy church but abandons in different ways due to the heresies. The man should then ruminate the good nourishment, not the bad.’ (AP/GS X.151)

A very early precedent of this idea of ruminating scripture is found in The Letter of Barnabas. Here the verb and the noun are connected even more clearly to the command in Leviticus 11.3 and Deuteronomy 14.6 about eating animals that ruminate. Again Moses said: ‘Eat every animal with a split hoof and that chews the cud.’ What does he mean? He means that the one who receives food knows who has provided it and appears to be glad, having relied on him. He spoke well, looking to the commandment. What does he mean then? Cling to those who fear the Lord, to those who meditate [meletōntōn] on the special meaning of the teaching they have received in their heart, to those who discuss and keep the upright demands of the Lord, to those who know that meditation [melétē] is a work that produces gladness, and to those who carefully chew over the word of the Lord. . . . (The Letter of Barnabas 10.11; trans. Loeb Classical Library, Bart D. Ehrman, italics mine.)

The word ‘meditation’ is paralleled to ‘ruminating’ the word of God.25 The connection between the pious person and ruminating animals is made already in the Letter of Aristeas (Ruppert, 1977, p. 84). Barsanuphius writes in a letter that the recipient who has begged him to write more frequently should digest what he has already written to him. Ruminate on my letters, and you will be saved. In these, you have the Old and the New [Testaments], if only you are able to understand. And if you understand them, you will have no need of any other book (Quaestiones, Letter 49, tr. Chryssavgis 2006).

In Letter 53, Barsanuphius writes to the same recipient, in a parallel phrase, that he should ‘meditate’ on the letters he has sent him, which suggests again that to ‘meditate’ on a text was the same as ‘ruminating’ on it.

Summary of the use of Melétē in early Christian monastic texts To facilitate a comparison with the use of melétē in other texts, a brief summary of the use of melétē in Christian monastic texts follows.

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


Others have stated that melétē was a matter of reciting Bible texts aloud (Bacht, 1955; Burton-Christie, 1993, p.  122ff). The examples mentioned above suggest that this was one form of melétē in Christian ascetic texts. This could be done using texts of scripture, but also the sayings of the fathers and mothers, the teachings of the authors themselves or other short phrases. The exercise could be performed with closed lips too. And it was not always necessary to slavishly follow the wording of the sentence to be recited. Another form of ‘meditation’ was that of imagining something very vividly, be it the cross of Christ, one’s own death, the final judgement or heavenly realities. Although this is not described in any detail in our texts, it is interesting to note, since the concept of meditatio in later developments included practices of visualization. When the purpose of the exercise is described, it is usually that of overcoming passions, distracting thoughts, demons and worries. It should make the words (or mental images) have an effect on the persons reciting, and on their lives. This is described vividly in some texts that expand on the image of ‘meditation’ as rumination. The background to the distinct exercise of repeating, or ‘ruminating’ on, specific biblical passages can partly be traced to the hagah of the Hebrew Bible and its translation in the Septuagint (Severus, 1953).26 However, to ‘meditate’ (meletán) often covers a broader spectrum of meanings. To understand this use of the term, we need to look at how it was used in classical Greek texts and in Greek philosophical texts.

Comparison of Melétē in monastic texts and in Greek philosophical texts Frank Hieronymus (1970) has studied a number of concepts related to education and practice. According to him, nowhere in archaic Greek literature does melétē indicate ‘training’ or ‘education’. The basic meaning is ‘to be engaged in something’, ‘to be busy doing something’. In Plato meletán is primarily used for theoretical and mental exercises in preparation for an activity, be it technical or philosophical. It is an important concept in his philosophy, where it can denote philosophical reflections, for example, on life and death (Phaedo 67D), and in the same work for the practice of ‘remembering death’ (Phaedo 80E–81A). In Critias (113B) meletán means ‘learning by heart’, ‘engraving on one´s mind’. The development of meletán into ‘meditation’ is probably most evident in Epicurus, who sees it as necessary to gain eudaimonía (‘joy’ or ‘human flourishing’). Here it no longer refers to specific skills, but to the basic rules of life, to wisdom itself. A wise man should meletán day and night in order to live as a god among men (Epistula III.122, 135).27 Gradually meletán becomes a specific philosophical practice, part of the study of philosophy. Epictetus can use it in a more general sense as ‘practice’ or even ‘tradition’ and ‘habit’, but usually it refers to ‘the practical pursuit of theoretical study’ (Hieronymus, 1970, p. 86). It refers to the rehearsal of and repeated reflection on what has been taught or experienced, but also to the memorization that is needed in order to be prepared to answer properly. We should not too easily project later developments of the term meditatio and its practice, such as the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, onto the early Christian


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

ascetic texts, as was done by Paul Rabbow (1954), and partly duplicated by Pierre Hadot (1987).28 On the other hand, obvious similarities, pointed out by Rabbow and Hadot, between the practice of melétē in monastic settings and in philosophical settings, should not be discarded, as was done by Robert J. Newman (1989) in his critique of Rabbow and Hadot. The parallels between the use of the terms in Stoic philosophy and in the ascetic texts, such as those from Gaza, are too great to be dismissed with a reference to ‘the general human phenomenon of Nachdenken, by which possible future evil events are mentally anticipated’.29 To show these close parallels, I will compare the use of the term in our Christian ascetic texts to the use in Imperial Stoicism, in both cases highlighting similarities and differences.

Analogies to Melétē In the monastic texts we have studied, the main analogy to ‘meditation’ (melétē) is that of rumination. A similar text using the functions of digestion to illustrate how ‘meditation’ is a matter of interiorization, is found in Epictetus: Those who have learned precepts as mere theory want to vomit them up immediately, just as people with weak stomachs do with their food. Digest your precepts first, and you will not vomit them up in this way; otherwise they really do turn to vomit, tainted matter unfit to eat.  .  .  . Show us these things so we can see that you have in truth learnt something from the philosophers. No; but, ‘Come and listen to me reading out my commentaries,’ you say. Away with you! Look for someone else to vomit over.30 (Dissertationes 3.21.1–2, 6; Loeb Classical Library)

An image of digestion is a very vivid way to illustrate that the process of ‘meditation’ involves an external element (a precept or a biblical text corresponding to the food) which effects an inner transformation (the interiorization of a precept or a text corresponding to the digestive processes). The common use of such images shows a close relationship between the use in monastic and philosophical settings. However, the specific image of rumination, which is quite common in monastic texts, is absent in the philosophical ones. This could be due to a greater stress on words actually being pronounced over and over again in the monastic setting.

Melétē as an exercise The verb meletán in Stoic philosophy is related to other terms that were used for physical and mental exercises such as gymnázein and áskein (Newman, 1989, p. 1474f). This is very much the case in our texts too. One example is a passage in one of Dorotheus’ speeches: You know also that it is written in the Gerontikon: ‘From our neighbour comes life and death.’ So always ‘meditate’ (meletáte) these [sayings] by heart, brothers; practice (gymnázete) the words of the holy Fathers; with fear and love of God, be

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


zealous (spoudázēte) about seeking what is good for yourselves and for each other. (Dorotheus, Doctrinae 60)

Melétē and the teacher-student relation In Stoic philosophy and in the Christian monastic texts, melétē is something suggested by a teacher to a student. Once the instruction is given, the melétē can be practised independently by the student. One indication of how intimately the exercise was connected to the relationship between a teacher and a disciple is the high frequency at which the term occurs in an imperative clause in the instructional texts, in the philosophical setting as well as in the monastic.

Exhortations to Meletán on given instructions Just as Barsanuphius and John tell their disciples to ‘meditate’ on what they have written to them (see above), Epictetus wants his disciples to ‘meditate’ on his words. After having taught about freedom, illustrating his teachings with his own paraphrases and reflections on the examples of Diogenes and Socrates, he exhorts: ‘Meditate’ [on] these things, these opinions, these words – look to these examples if you want to be free, . . . (Dissertationes 4.1.170).

The purpose of Melétē A passage in Epictetus clarifies something which is suggested also in other texts, but seldom in this clear manner: For this reason philosophers exhort us not to be contented with mere learning, but to add ‘meditation’ also, and then training. (Dissertationes 2.9.13)

Virtue is acquired in three steps: the first step is to learn something (matheín), the second is to imprint it in the being of the person through mental exercise (melétē), the third step is putting it into practice (áskēsis) (see Hieronymus, 1970, p. 89; Newman, 1989, p. 1484f). For Epictetus, the ultimate goal of the melétē is true liberty, for Seneca it is the perpetual tranquillity leading to happiness, for Marcus Aurelius it is to stop looking at the future with fear or hope and instead living virtuously in the present moment. All this comes from the correct judgement of adiaphora (indifferent things) so central to Stoicism (Newman, 1989, p. 1515). It is clear from the above-mentioned examples, that in the monastic texts too ‘meditation’ was supposed to function as imprinting knowledge on a person. It is not enough to read the Bible or some other paraenetic text, it needs to be interiorized through the exercise of ‘meditation’. The goal is described in terms of ‘salvation’,31 learning to do good by one’s free will,32 to avoid sin and overcome passions, evil and


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

temptations,33 to have a contrite heart,34 in order not to fear,35 to bring one’s thoughts in order,36 to avoid being caught by the devil,37 to find rest (anápausis),38 to gain virtue39 and to have the suitable words at hand when the right moment comes.40 The exercise of ‘meditation’ functions the same way in these monastic texts as in the Stoic texts: as a way of interiorizing texts and achieving an inner transformation, although the descriptions of the ultimate goal of that transformation only partly overlap.

The use of sententiae As we have seen, melétē can be a very specific exercise where sententiae from scripture or from the Desert Fathers and Mothers are repeated over and over again. This was also the case in Stoic texts, where the material was taken from other sources (Newman, 1989, p. 1488ff). In both contexts this exercise was a very concrete way of conducting ‘meditation’, without being the only way.

Philosophical themes found in connection to Melétē In many of the Christian ascetic texts where ‘meditation’ is mentioned, there is also a discussion of subjects central to Stoic philosophy such as paying attention to oneself, the remembrance of death, preparing for difficult times, overcoming passions and the free will. ‘Paying attention to oneself ’ was a central praxis taught by Epictetus (e.g. Dissertationes 4.12.1–21), involving being conscious of how we do things, at what time we should do them and being aware of who we are. This is brought in in connection with the exercise of melétē in the correspondence of Barsanuphius and John, where they are both related to fighting a spiritual combat, like a soldier does his drills (meletá) to prepare for war (Quaestiones, Letters 215 and 216; see Letter 7). The exercise of remembering one’s own death and mortality is described as one way of doing ‘meditation’ in Letters 517 and 639, as it often is in Epictetus: Will you not study (meletêseis), not only as Plato says, dying, but also being tortured on the rack and going into exile and being flogged, and in short, giving up all that is not your own? (Dissertationes 4.1.172, tr. Carter, 1995)

Preparing oneself for difficult times and being able to live in any kind of circumstance is one of the purposes of ‘meditation’ as described in the Quaestiones et responsiones of Barsanuphius and John (e.g. Letters 19, 47, 115, 347), as well as in Epictetus. The following are two examples of the latter: Let others study (meletátōsan) lawsuits, problems and syllogisms. You should study how to face death, imprisonment, the rack and exile. (Dissertationes 2.1.38, tr. Carter, 1995) . . . for what he has travelled for is nothing. No, what matters is to study (meletān) how to rid his life of lamentation, and complaint and cries of ‘Alas!’ and ‘How miserable I am!’, and misfortune, and disappointment; and to learn what death,

Melétē in Early Christian Ascetic Texts


what exile, what prison, what hemlock is, so that he may be able to say in prison, like Socrates, ‘My dear Crito, if that is what pleases the gods, so be it,’ and not, ‘Wretched old man that I am, is it for this that I have kept my grey hairs!’ (Dissertationes 1.4.23–4, tr. Carter, 1995)

The connection between melétē and overcoming passions made in the Quaestiones et responsiones (e.g. Letter 256: ‘Trample upon the passions, always “meditating” on this response.’) is made also by Epictetus: But the necessary principles, by which I might escape from fear, grief, passions and hindrance and be a free man, these I neither exercise myself in nor do I practice (meletán) in these the proper exercise (melétē). (Dissertationes 4.6.16–17)

Questions about the attitude of the guiding principle of free will, proaíresis, in relation to the things we cannot control occur in connection with the practice of ‘meditation’ (e.g. Quaestiones, Letter 639). This is a common subject in Epictetus.41 One example will suffice: The first difference between a layman and a philosopher is this: the one says, ‘Woe is me for my child, for my brother, woe is me for my father’; but the other, if he can ever be compelled to say ‘Woe is me’ reflects and adds, ‘for myself ’. For choice (proaíresis) cannot be hindered or hurt by anything outside the sphere of choice, but only by itself. (Dissertationes 3.19.1–2)

*** Several of these parallels between the monastic practice of melétē and that of ancient philosophy, in particular Stoic, can also be shown between the monastic practice and that of the Hebrew Bible. What is a more particular parallel is how the practice is related to philosophical themes in the Christian monastic texts as well as in texts of Imperial Stoicism.

Conclusions In these texts melétē is ‘a self-administered attention-based technique’ (to use the definition of this project), taught by a teacher to a disciple in order to achieve an ‘inner transformation’. It is an exercise which can be practised in a number of ways. The most common form is reciting a text aloud or silently, although the latter seems to be an exception. The text can be an excerpt from the Bible, a saying of a desert father or mother, or a text written by the teacher who gives the instruction to perform the exercise. Another form of ‘meditation’ is imagining a scenario very vividly, be it one’s own death, the final judgement or heavenly realities. An important background is the practice of hagah in the Hebrew Bible, but that is not the only parallel. The contexts in which melétē is discussed are closely related to the contexts in which the concept


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

is discussed in texts of Imperial Stoicism. In particular, the exercise is discussed in relation to similar philosophical themes. The term meditatio as a spiritual exercise in Western monasticism has its background in the Christian ascetic practice of melétē, which in turn has a Hebrew as well as a Greek philosophical background.

Abbreviations AP/GS = Apophthegmata Patrum (the Greek systematic collection) = Guy, 1993–2005. AP/G = Apophthegmata Patrum (the Greek alphabetical collection). PG 65:72–440. AP/N = Apophthegmata Patrum (the Greek anonymous collection) = Nau, 1905–1913. PG = Migne, J.P. (1857–1866).


The Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation in Greco-Roman Philosophy1 Henrik Rydell Johnsén Lund University

In this chapter, Henrik Rydell Johnsén discusses the early development of the meditative Jesus prayer in the fourth to seventh century, based on texts by three early monastic authors. In this period, the practice is not yet clearly defined, and it evolves in close conversation with other practices. Still, its basic elements are already quite uniform: a constant vocal or sometimes silent repetition of short formulas, in the later period sometimes attached to the breath, with the aim of stimulating concentration on God, interiorizing attitudes and ideals, avoiding mind wandering and attaining inward tranquillity. Rydell Johnsén goes on to compare this with the elements of meditative practices within Greco-Roman philosophy, which turn out to be structurally parallel (except that they do not make active use of the breath). He argues that two Greco-Roman practices  – philosophical meditation (melétē/ meditatio) and remembrance of God (mnēmē Theoú) – may have played a central role in the formation of the Jesus prayer. But the Jesus prayer also filled this basic matrix with Christian content, such as short formulas taken from Scripture and prayer practice, references to the Christian God and to Jesus, as well as typically Christian attitudes.

Introduction The so-called Jesus prayer is a Christian monastic practice somewhere in between prayer and meditation2 that originated with the rise of Christian monasticism in the fourth–seventh-century ce. The practice, in its more developed form, involved the monk unceasingly repeating a short prayer addressed to Jesus Christ, invoking his name or using a more extensive phrase, like ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’ (a more or less fixed formula only developed gradually). An important purpose behind the practice was to achieve a certain inward attitude and concentration upon God.3


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

This chapter will discuss the early development of this practice. I will proceed in two steps. First, I will try to discern some important common features of the early practice, both in terms of how it was done, and how the aims of the practice were conceived. Secondly, at the end, I will discuss the question of the origins of the Jesus prayer, by relating the practice to meditation (melétē or meditatio) and continual remembrance of God (mnēmē Theoú or mnēmē toú Theoú) in Greco-Roman philosophy. The aim is not to give a complete picture of what we know from all early Christian monastic sources, or of the early development, but to explore three important early monastic sources as a sample to discern important features of the practice, and to use these findings for a comparison with pre-monastic sources. The monastic sources that will be used are three early monastic texts, the Conferences by John Cassian (d. 435),4 the Gnostic Chapters by Diadochus of Photike (fifth century)5 and a somewhat later text, The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus (sixth/seventh century).6 Unlike the other two, Diadochus of Photike was a bishop and not a monk, but his text was not unlikely addressed to monks. It also had a great impact on later monasticism, and is an important link in the early development. When it comes to Greco-Roman philosophy, I will also restrict the focus. Even though we find meditative practices in several philosophical traditions, I will mainly look at practices in imperial Stoicism,7 and mostly in Seneca the Younger (d. 65), in his Letters to Lucilius and his moral treatises, where we have elaborate references to a kind of verbal meditation that shows striking similarities with the later monastic practice. When considering meditation and the Jesus prayer in the three monastic sources we should keep two things in mind. First, none of these texts were really a practical handbook on the Jesus prayer as such, even though the writers refer to, or imply, such practice quite frequently. The parts of John Cassian’s Conferences that will be considered here are perhaps the ones that come closest to such a handbook. In general, however, the references to the Jesus prayer are rather a part of instructions with partly different aims. The same holds true for the references to meditation in the philosophical sources. Secondly, the Jesus prayer is not a clearly defined practice in these early sources. Even though it is evident that we are dealing with a sort of prayer in all three sources,8 the terminology is not consistent, and the practice, as such, is closely related to a broader set of practices and notions, like the continual meditation or recitation (melétē) of short verses from the Scripture, the practice of ‘remembrance of God’, and the biblical notion of ‘unceasing’ prayer.9 The combination is also varied. In John Cassian and Diadochus, the practice of short repetitive prayers is closely tied to meditation or recitation (melétē/meditatio), as well as to the ‘remembrance of God’. In John Climacus the practice is also related to the ‘remembrance of God’, but the notion of melétē is not used in this context; melétē is merely used for other kinds of meditative practices, like the recitation of biblical texts in general, or the meditation upon one’s death. In John Cassian short prayers including the name of Jesus are not mentioned in this context, but in Diadochus and John Climacus they are. Against this background, it will be important not to isolate the use of repetitive short prayers from this broader set of practices, even though the focus will be on such repetitive prayers. The practices will be discussed under two general headings: (1) the

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


form of the practices, and (2) the aims. Despite the differences, we will find a quite similar set of practices and conceptions at this early stage. The important, close connection between meditation (melétē), the remembrance of God and the use of short prayers, has been pointed out by other scholars,10 but how these practices are related in the early development of the Jesus prayer, not least in relation to Greco-Roman philosophy, needs some further clarification.11 Usually the early monastic development of the Jesus prayer is only discussed in terms of the earlier Christian practice of prayer. The Jesus prayer definitely turned out as a very important Christian innovation, in due course, but was it really as independent from its Greco-Roman context as it is usually presented? Some scholars have suggested a connection between early monasticism and Greco-Roman philosophy concerning the notion of ‘remembrance of God’,12 but when it comes to the Jesus prayer as such, there are very few exceptions to the general picture; one exception is a short paragraph by Irénée Hausherr (1960), where he calls attention to certain similarities between meditation (melétē) in early monasticism, and meditation (melétē) in Greco-Roman philosophy. Hausherr concludes, quite surprisingly perhaps, that the Greco-Roman practice ‘foreshadows the meletan of the fathers’.13 Apparently there is a similarity in terminology, but Hausherr’s observation seems to have gone mostly unnoticed, even though other scholars relates the practice of the Jesus prayer to meditation (melétē), or even suggest that meditation (melétē), as such, is at the heart of the early practice of the Jesus prayer.14 In order to elucidate the early development, and in what sense the early practice is foreshadowed in Greco-Roman philosophy, I will, in the second part of this chapter, look at similarities between early forms of the Jesus prayer and practices of melétē (Greek) or meditatio (Latin) and ‘remembrance of God’ in Greco-Roman philosophy.

Meditation and Jesus prayer in early monasticism The form of the Jesus prayer and similar practices Repetition and constancy One of the crucial features of the Jesus prayer and similar meditative practices is repetition, and the ideal of an ‘unceasing prayer’. The use of ‘short’ (brevissimae) ‘repetitive’ (crebrae) prayers was something typical of the early desert fathers, according to Augustine (d. 430).15 Unlike the daily prayers where the monks recited psalms at specific hours of the day, alone or together,16 the Jesus prayer and similar short prayers were a private occupation, where a particular phrase or prayer was repeated over and over again, preferably as it seems, at all times.17 In the earliest monastic sources, repetition is indicated by the use of the verb meletán or meditari, or the noun melétē or meditatio in the context of the short prayers. Repetition was also typical of the general monastic practice of melétē, where short excerpts from Scripture were recited repeatedly and memorized.18 The close connection between melétē and the practice of short prayers is apparent in our two earliest sources, in John Cassian and Diadochus.19 John Cassian recommends


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

a short phrase from the Psalms (O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me) as an object of one’s prayer; and he is explicit regarding the need to make the practice constant and ceaseless: ‘[t]his verse should be poured out in unceasing prayer’ (oratio), Cassian states, and then he encourages the reader to ‘meditate constantly’ (meditatio . . . indisrupta volvatur) on the verse in the heart.20 It is notable that Cassian discusses the formula both in terms of prayer and meditation (meditatio), in the same passage. In Diadochus the reader is exhorted to attach the words ‘Lord Jesus’ (Kýrie Iēsoú) to his mind, as its sole occupation. Diadochus adds that one should contemplate these words deep down in one’s inner ‘treasuries’ (tamieíoi), and that those who ‘meditate unceasingly’ (meletōsin apaústōs) on ‘this holy and glorious name in the depths of their heart’, will also see the ‘light of their minds’.21 In another passage, Diadochus speaks about the ‘remembrance of Lord Jesus’, both in terms of prayer and ceaseless meditation (melétē).22 In The Ladder, melétē is used a handful of times, but only with reference to practices not necessarily associated with prayer, like unceasing (adialeíptôs) recitation of verses from Scripture,23 remembrance of death,24 remembrance of the eternal judgement25 or training in order to make virtues a permanent habit.26 But Climacus indicates repetition in other ways. One way is to speak about the prayer in relation to breathing.27 From these references it is clear that Climacus implicates a repetitive practice; just like one’s breathing, the prayer should be a constant and a repetitive practice. Climacus also speaks about ‘unceasing prayer’, using a whole range of expressions,28 just like John Cassian29 and Diadochus.30 It is not always clear from the context that Climacus refers to the Jesus prayer as such, but very often it is likely that he does. In two passages in his Ladder, for example, he uses exactly the same term ‘to scourge’ (mastízō), to indicate repetition, on the one hand related to a prayer using the name of Jesus, and on the other, related to ‘unceasing prayer’.31 Although Climacus’ text has a clear fragmentized outlook, Climacus weaves his seemingly isolated expressions together into a more coherent argument.32 In chapter 28, specifically on prayer, repetition and the idea of a constant habit are evident also from this perspective. The initially stated preference for the use of short phrases during prayer33 seems to be presupposed later on in the chapter,34 when Climacus stresses the importance of ‘unceasing prayer’ or constant prayer in order to keep the mind focused on God and free from distractions. The notion of ‘unceasing prayer’ was evidently also informed by the New Testament, for example, by the apostle Paul’s First epistle to the Thessalonians 5.17,35 where the addressees were encouraged to pray ‘unceasingly’ (adialeíptōs).36 However, Paul did not refer to the Jesus prayer, but used the phrase metaphorically in order to express a proper constant attitude. Origen (important theologian of the third century) also interpreted ‘unceasing prayer’ metaphorically.37 In early monasticism, in contrast, the conception of ‘unceasing prayer’ changed into a more literal understanding. As I shall argue, important factors in this development were meditative practices in Greco-Roman philosophy, adopted and transformed to a new Christian monastic setting.

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


Short formulas and the use of the name of Jesus A second feature of the early practice of the Jesus prayer and related practices, is the repetitive use of a short textual formula as a sort of semantic and auditive object of the prayer. We find short formulas of two partly overlapping kinds: (1) short phrases taken from Scripture38 and (2) short prayers addressing God, the Lord, Jesus or Jesus Christ (with or without titles ascribed to Jesus).39 In John Cassian the specific short formula (formula) proposed for the repetitive prayer is taken from Psalms 70.1: ‘O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me.’ In John Cassian, but also in Diadochus, this use of short prayers is referred to in terms of melétē or meditatio,40 just like the recitation of short phrases from Scripture in general. Thus, as we have stated earlier, it is evident that the early use of short repetitive prayers is closely related to the repetitive recitation of short phrases from Scripture. It is also notable that Cassian’s formula does not include the name of Jesus. In Diadochus, in the fifth century, in contrast, we have one of the earliest examples of a formula including the name of Jesus, tó kýrie Jēsoú.41 In Gaza, in the sixth century, we find slightly different formulas also including the name of Jesus, like ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me’,42 or ‘Jesus help me’.43 But even if we find the use of the name of Jesus, at least in the fifth century,44 and even if the name of Jesus gradually became an essential part of the Jesus prayer, it is clear that ‘it enjoys no special prominence’ in the earliest sources.45 And it is also evident that we find no fixed formula in this period.46 The impression, thus, that the practice seems to originate from a general practice of recitation of short phrases from Scripture is strong. In John Climacus there are references to the repetitive use of both short Scripture quotations47 and prayers including the name of Jesus, for example, in statements like, ‘[f]log your enemies with the name of Jesus’,48 or ‘Always let the remembrance of God and the single phrased prayer of Jesus (monológistos Iēsou eúchē) go to sleep with you’49 – the use of the term monologistos in the last quotation, referring to the Jesus prayer, is as it seems the first occurrence in early monastic sources.50 Just like in the earlier monastic tradition, the repetitive use of prayers and the repetitive recitation of verses from Scripture seem not, in Climacus, to be two clearly distinct practices; for example, both kinds of formula should, according to Climacus, be ‘affixed to’, ‘taken in with’ or ‘united to’ one’s breathing.51 Also in chapter 28, on prayer, in Climacus’ Ladder, prayers using short phrases are presented in various ways as a preferable form of prayer: while a lot words often distract the mind and lead to fantasy, single phrases (monología) ‘makes for concentration’;52 and the very beginning of prayer, according to Climacus, is to ‘drive away’ distracting thoughts ‘by single phrases’ (monologístōs).53

Use of one’s voice As we have seen the repetitive use of short prayers in early monastic sources is clearly referred to in terms of a melétē or meditatio. We know from other early monastic sources that melétē often, but not always, meant repeating a certain phrase aloud;54 and this seems to be the case for the Jesus prayer as well.55 Diadochus is not completely


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

clear, but he seems to imply that the short phrases or the name of Jesus ought to be, or at least could be, repeated aloud; in one passage, Diadochus says that one should ‘call out’ the short phrase ‘Jesus Christ’ during the prayer.56 In John Cassian the use of the voice is even clearer. We find several passages where Cassian uses the verb decantare, which means57 to recite, thus indicating that the words of the short prayer should be pronounced aloud: ‘You should not stop reciting it [i.e. the formula] when you are doing any kind of work . . .’, Cassian states at one point.58 Climacus rarely speaks explicitly about whether a melétē or the Jesus prayer should be done with one’s voice or not. However, he states once in his chapter on prayer (chapter 28), as it seems with reference to prayer with single phrases (monologístōs), that such prayer in its more mature form also implies that one is able to enclose one’s mind ‘within what is being said or thought’ (en toís legoménois ē noouménois), thus, implying that such short prayers could at least be said aloud.59

Use of one’s breathing The role of breathing is the most difficult aspect to discern clearly from the early monastic sources. In John Cassian and Diadochus we find no reference at all to breathing, but in The Ladder, in contrast, there are several references. However, should we understand these references literally or metaphorically? In later monastic practice in the Byzantine Middle Ages, it is evident that the Jesus prayer also involved one’s breathing. This is clear, for example, in a monastic treatise called Method of Sacred Prayer and Attentiveness.60 When it comes to Climacus, however, scholars usually interpret the references metaphorically, as if they merely express that the prayer ought to be unceasing or continuous.61 But if we should understand the references literally, they are among the earliest references to breathing in relation to the Jesus prayer.62 John Climacus refers to breathing in connection with the Jesus prayer three times in his Ladder: (1) The Ladder 4.112 (721d–724ab)63 Then they threw themselves at his [i.e. John the Sabbaite’s] feet begging him to give them a rule . . . to the third he said: ‘Take in with your breath inseparably (Analaboú sýn tēi pnoēi sou achōrístōs) the word that reads: “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.”’ (Matt. 10.22)

(2) The Ladder 14.32 (869a)64 Let this be affixed to your breathing (tēi sēi anapnoēi sygkollēthētō), the word of him who says: ‘But I, when then demons troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer was affixed to the bosom of my soul.’ (Ps. 34.13)

(3) The Ladder 27.61 (1112c)65 Unite the memory of Jesus to your breathing (hē Iēsoú mnēmē enōthētō tēi pnoēi sou) and then you will know the benefit of stillness.

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


The texts are not entirely clear, but there are indications in them that would speak for a literal meaning. When arguing for a metaphorical meaning scholars have often referred to some phrases in Gregory of Nazianz (d. 390) that deal with prayer and breathing, as well. These texts, together with some passages in the Sentences of Sextus (second century), Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215), Origen (d. c. 254)  and the Vita Antonii (fourth century) are, as it seems, the texts that come closest to the phrases in John Climacus in previous writers, pagan or Christian.66 The references are of two kinds. In the Sentences of Sextus, Clement and Origen we find the expression ‘to breathe God’ (Theón anapneín)67 or ‘to breathe Christ’ (tón Christón anapneín)68 meaning, as it seems, to keep God or Christ before one’s eyes more or less constantly. In the Vita Antonii69 and in Gregory of Nazianz,70 the phrases are similar but also clearly related to philosophical practices or philosophical terminology. Most likely, we should understand these references metaphorically as well. However, should we understand the references to breathing in John Climacus in the same way as in these passages? There are some indications that would speak for a literal meaning. To begin with it is clear that the expressions in John Climacus are different from the phrases in the earlier sources, and should therefore not necessarily be interpreted similarly. In the earlier sources we have the verb ‘breathe’, with ‘God’ or ‘Christ’ as its object in accusative,71 but in The Ladder a specific phrase (lógos), or the memory of Jesus, is supposed by ‘affixed’ or ‘united’ to one’s breath; and here, ‘breath’ is a noun and in dative. Secondly, it is clear that it was natural and self-evident for Climacus to use the body, in general, as an aid in prayer, in order to to uphold certain inward attitudes, since, as Climacus states, ‘the mind often conforms to the body’.72 Such efforts of ‘bodily prayer’ could involve ‘stretching out the hands, beating of the breast, sincere raising of the eyes to heaven, deep sighs, continuous prostrations’.73 Finally, it is also important to notice that in the second quotation above (14.32), Climacus has changed the wording, ‘my prayer shall return to my own bosom’, from Psalms 35.13 in the Septuagint, into ‘my prayer was affixed to the bosom of my soul’. Thus, the idea that the verse from Scripture should be affixed to one’s breathing is paralleled by the prayer being affixed to ‘the bosom of my soul’. This interiorization of the verse and its meaning is crucial. Might this imply that, as the air goes down into the lungs when breathing, the verse and its implication will also find its way into the heart? There are good reasons to believe so, especially if we consider common ideas about breathing in Late Antique medicine, where the inhaled air was often understood as not just entering the lungs, but also to pass from the lungs into the heart. We have this idea in such crucial authors as Galen (second century ce), in the influential physiologist Erasistratus (third century bce), whose disciples Galen argued against in other respects, and perhaps also already in Aristotle.74 Thus, against this background it is not unlikely that the practice of reciting a phrase from Scripture could have been understood as being supported and enforced by one’s breathing, if the phrase was attached to one’s respiration: Just as the air went from the mouth to the lungs, and then to the heart, the attitude implied by the phrase did the same.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Thus, even if we cannot be entirely sure, there are a number of quite reasonable arguments for a literal use of breathing in connection with the Jesus prayer in John Climacus; accordingly, even though breathing seems not to have been part of the earliest monastic practice, it might have evolved as early as the sixth or seventh century.

The aims of the Jesus prayer and similar practices Concentrating upon God There are at least three distinctive aims associated with the use of the Jesus prayer in our three monastic sources; the first is concentration, or more specifically, a constant focus upon God or Jesus Christ. According to John Cassian, the purpose of constant meditation (meditatio) on short phrases is to keep ‘the mind’s whole and entire attention fixed on God’ (sanam et integram mentis intentionem .  .  . ad deum).75 Such a focus on God in connection with the Jesus prayer or short repetitive prayers is also clearly implied, in all our three sources, in references to the ‘remembrance of God’, or the ‘remembrance of Lord Jesus’ (toú Kyríou Iēsou mnēmē), or similar expressions.76 Diadochus also underlines the importance of giving the mind ‘nothing but the prayer “Lord Jesus”’,77 or the importance of grace and freedom from passion in order to keep such a focus: ‘even though the mind is momentarily deprived by forgetfulness of the object of its longing’, under such preconditions ‘it at once resumes its proper activity’.78 Climacus suggests a similar benefit of the Jesus prayer: ‘Prepare yourself for the set times of prayer by unceasing prayer . . .’ he states, and then elaborating it further: ‘I have seen those who . . . preserved the remembrance of God, and when they stood at prayer they did at once master their minds.’79 The use of single phrases during the Jesus prayer is also something that makes the mind focused. While loquacity in prayer often distracts the mind, according to Climacus, short phrases (monología), ‘makes the mind concentrated’ (tón noún synágein).80

Interiorization of attitudes Another aim of the Jesus prayer and related practices is to imprint the words or to fix their meaning, or their implied attitude, at the bottom of one’s soul. In all three sources this aim is expressed in relation to the ‘remembrance of God’. By short prayers or meditation, it is possible to ‘cling to the memory of God’, or to achieve a ‘constant memory of God’, as Cassian states.81 In Diadochus it is evident that the meditative prayer means interiorization of attitudes. If one meditates on the name of Jesus, ‘in the depths’ of one’s heart, an inner attitude is established; then the very name ‘implants in us a constant state of love for its goodness’ (héxin hēmín pántōs toú agapán tēn autoú agathótēta . . . empoieí), Diadochus states.82 In The Ladder interiorization is sometimes also expressed by reference to breathing. In chapter 14 on fasting, Climacus presents the repetitive recitation of a short phrase from Psalms 35.13 as a way to uphold or to attain an inward humble attitude together

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


with one’s fasting: ‘Let this be affixed to your breathing, the word of him who says: “But I, when the demons troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer was affixed to the bosom of my soul.”’83 As I have mentioned earlier, Climacus has here changed the phrase of the Septuagint, ‘my prayer shall return to my own bosom’, into ‘my prayer was affixed to the bosom of my soul’, in order to express the importance of internalizing the meaning of the phrase. The reference to breathing seems to reinforce the interiorization: when the words are affixed to one’s breathing, they descend into one’s inmost parts, just like the air of one’s breath.

Unwandering mind and inward tranquillity A third aim, finally, is the use of the Jesus prayer as a way to keep the mind from wandering, or from turning away from its proper focus and activity, something that, of course, is closely related to the first aim, to be concentrated upon God. This aim is also evident in our earliest sources, in John Cassian and Diadochus of Photike. Diadochus writes: ‘You should give to it [i.e. the intellect], the “Lord Jesus” as its only preoccupation’, and then he continues, ‘Let the mind continually concentrate on these words within its inner treasuries with such intensity that it is not turned aside to any fantasies’84 (phantasías). The practice is appropriate to repel demons, evils, deceptions, worldly thoughts,85 or to use as a ‘weapon’ or a ‘shield’ (hóplos)86 or a ‘guarding’ (tērēsis) of the mind.87 According to John Cassian the short prayers have an effect upon a range of objects, like ‘distractions’, ‘wandering thoughts’, ‘fantasies’ or ‘demons’.88 The short prayer is, accordingly, ‘an unassailable wall, an impenetrable breastplate, and a very strong shield for all of those who labour under the attack of the demons,’ Cassian states;89 thus, a protection to have at hand in front of temptations and wandering thoughts.90 We have similar ideas in John Climacus. The use of unceasing or single-phrased prayer is a way to drive away ‘assaults’ (prosbolaí),91 fantasies,92 demons93 or different sorts of temptations.94 It is a way to control the mind; to avoid distractions, to make the mind concentrated (tón noún synágein),95 or to master the mind (toú heautoú nóos perigígnesthai).96 Finally, closely related to an unwandering mind is inward tranquillity. This aim (tranquillitas) seems to be in John Cassian’s mind.97 Climacus also makes this plain: ‘Unite the memory of Jesus to your breathing [hē Iēsou mnēmē enōthētō tēi pnoēi sou] and then you will know the benefit of stillness [hēsychías].’98 This ultimate end can also be expressed, in our three sources, in terms of light, knowledge or an ineffable experience of God.99

Meditation in Greco-Roman philosophy We will end this chapter by looking at how the early practice of the Jesus prayer might be related to philosophical meditation; to the practice of melétē or meditatio, and to the ‘remembrance of God’.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

From what has been said above, some aspects of the Jesus prayer seem to be closely related to the practice of melétē (repetition, use of one’s voice), while others are more closely related to the remembrance of God (concentration upon God). I would like to suggest in the following that there are good reasons to understand the practices of melétē and mnēmē Theoú in Greco-Roman philosophy as two crucial sources for the early development of the Jesus prayer. We will start by looking at melétē and meditatio. The concept of melétē and meditatio (and the corresponding verbs meletán or meditari) are in general complex concepts, originally meaning ‘training’ or ‘exercise’. In the philosophical context, it gradually acquired a more specific meaning, sometimes translated by ‘meditation’ but clearly quite different from the modern concept.100 Basically this kind of melétē or meditatio meant a repetitive practice, using images or short phrases, in order to engrave beneficial attitudes within oneself, aiming at an inward transformation. It was a practice clearly related to moral therapy as well as to memorization.101 This practice is found in different philosophical traditions, in particular Epicureanism and imperial Stoicism.102 In the following I will restrict the discussion to one type of meditative practice, the verbal melétē or meditatio, that is, the repetitive use of short verbal phrases; and to one author, Seneca the Younger, where we find a great number of references to this kind of meditatio, references very close to the monastic practice of melétē or meditatio. Even if the verbal melétē or meditatio is somewhat different in different philosophers, Seneca seems to represent a broader tradition with a core of quite similar practices and aims.103

The form of verbal philosophical melétē/meditatio When looking at the forms and aims of the verbal meditation (meditatio) in Seneca, we find five essential features that make a strong case for an impact of the tradition that Seneca represents on the early forms of the Jesus prayer: repetition, the use of short formulas, the use of one’s voice as forms of the practice, and interiorization and an unwandering mind as important aims of the practice.

Repetition and constancy To begin with, it is frequently underlined by Seneca that one needs to make the verbal meditation a daily (cotidianus),104 and a constant (adsiduus) practice.105 It is not always clear what he actually implies by a ‘constant’ practice, but it is evident that we are dealing with a repetitive and prolonged (diu) practice that needs to be done ‘frequently’ (subinde) or ‘often’ (saepe),106 with a focus on just one single maxim. Seneca writes, referring to Demetrius the Cynic: it is far better for us to possess only a few maxims of philosophy that are nevertheless always at our command and in use, than to acquire vast knowledge that notwithstanding serves no practical purpose. ‘Just as,’ he says, ‘the best wrestler is not one who is thoroughly acquainted with all the postures and grips

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


of the art, which he will seldom use against an adversary, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them’ (in uno se aut altero bene ac diligenter exercuit).107

Such meditatio can also be likened to digestion108 or to the dyeing of wool to underline its repetitive character; just as wool is ‘soaked and steeped’ in the colours ‘many times’, so is the soul, until the principle or the saying that ought to be meditated upon has thoroughly ‘dyed’ the soul.109

Short formulas At the heart of the verbal meditation for Seneca is the use of short phrases or sayings (sententiae). These sententiae were the very ‘bones of the meditatio’, as Robert J. Newman states.110 They could be a quotation from a philosopher,111 or from the poets or a good proverb, like ‘Nothing in excess’, or ‘You must expect to be treated by others as you yourself have treated them’.112

Use of one’s voice It is hard to know exactly how these short phrases were used, but it seems that meditation was often, but not necessarily always, performed aloud,113 thus, probably implying a sort of repetitive recitation of the short phrase. However, Seneca emphasizes that the use of one’s voice is not an end in itself, since the purpose is not ‘to give the voice exercise, but to make it give us exercise’ (ut exerceatur vox, sed ut exerceat).114

The aims of verbal philosophical melétē/meditatio When comparing verbal philosophical meditation and the Jesus prayer, we also find many of the same aims. The two most important aims of the verbal philosophical melétē or meditatio are paralleled in the practice of the Jesus prayer, too: (1) interiorization of attitudes, and (2) attainment of an unwandering mind.

Interiorization of attitudes Just like for the Jesus prayer, a fundamental aspect of verbal philosophical meditation is interiorization of attitudes, thus, to let the sententia, or the content of the saying, be ‘welcomed intimately’115 or ‘implanted’116 into one’s heart or soul, or to ‘permeate’117 it. The purpose of the verbal melétē/meditatio is to make the sententia a constant habit of mind, or to implant the precepts into one’s self, so as to have them constantly at hand. The aim is to achieve a state of ‘preparedness’, when confronting impressions and future events.118 ‘The constant and rigorous application of particular phrases and images . . . interiorize the meditatio by driving its considerations deep into the soul’, as Newman states.119 We are here close to our monastic sources. Although preparedness is expressed mostly in other terms in our monastic texts (like the Jesus prayer in terms of a ‘shield’, or an ‘impenetrable breastplate’, against disturbing thoughts and


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

temptations),120 the great difference is not the principle of internalization of attitudes or virtues or preparedness, as such, but what kind of attitudes that are to be implanted. Humility and compunction or a focus on God seem like attitudes of greater importance in our monastic sources,121 while Seneca is more concerned with appropriate attitudes towards fear, death, loss or grief.122

Unwandering mind and inward tranquillity The second aim of the verbal meditatio that we also find in relation to the Jesus prayer concerns impressions (phantasiae) or emotions (affectus) that disturb the mind. To meditate means for Seneca, as Mireille Armisen-Marchetti has shown, to ‘manipulate’ the mind, or to control mental impressions.123 This inward control is often spoken of in terms of fortification, or to fortify the mind against assaults,124 or in terms of an inward peace or calm,125 or even in terms of happiness.126 Again we are close to the aims of the Jesus prayer in our three monastic sources. The great difference concerns what needs to be controlled or ‘manipulated’. While Seneca often speaks about impressions (phantasiae) that assault the mind, the inward control in our early monastic sources concerns not only impressions but also demons and bad thoughts (logismoí). This difference, however, seems like a reasonable reflection of a general tendency in late Antiquity towards ‘demonizing’ of impressions in relation to the soul, acknowledged by other scholars.127 Finally, in addition, Seneca seems not to relate the meditatio to ineffable experiences of God or of light as we have noticed in our monastic sources.

Remembrance of God As we have seen there is a clear correspondence between the practice of melétē/ meditatio in Seneca and early forms of the Jesus prayer in our three sources, not just in basic terminology but also in terms of forms and aims of the practices. The one notable exception is the aim to become concentrated upon God, which seems not to be related to verbal philosophical melétē/meditatio, at least not in Seneca (the use of breathing is missing, too, but is not found in the earliest monastic sources either). However, this aspect can be explained if we consider another and as it seems, related philosophical notion, the ‘remembrance of God’. As we have seen in our two earliest monastic sources, the aim to become focused on God by using short prayers was intimately related to the notion of ‘remembrance of God’. This notion was originally not a Christian one,128 but was used already by Philo (d. c. 40 ce) and by imperial Stoics like Epictetus (d. 135)  and Marcus Aurelius (d. 180) (but, to my knowledge, not by Seneca), and by other Greco-Roman philosophers as well, like Iamblichus (d. c. 330). For Marcus Aurelius the ‘remembrance of God’ seems to be intimately related to a virtuous life.129 For Philo, who is perhaps the most important figure here, it is the foundation and ideal of such a life; it is about preserving and memorizing God’s wisdom and precepts, and ultimately, about being completely focused on God;130 and Philo’s description of the famous therapeutae, who ‘always retain an imperishable recollection of God’, even during sleep, comes very close to our monastic sources.131 As Hermann Josef Sieben argues, it is hard to deny the

Early Jesus Prayer and Meditation


continuity between Greco-Roman philosophy and early monasticism when it comes to the ‘remembrance of God’.132 It is thus not unreasonable that the missing piece in philosophical melétē or meditatio is dependent on another philosophical practice, the ‘remembrance of God’. It is also notable that Philo relates the ‘remembrance of God’ to the possibility of ineffable experiences of God,133 something that we have seen in our monastic sources, but not in relation to meditatio in Seneca. Several scholars have argued for monastic melétē as the origin of the Jesus prayer,134 or pointed out its close connection to the notions melétē and ‘remembrance of God’.135 But considering how the matrix of aims and practices related to the Jesus prayer closely resembles the aims and forms of verbal philosophical melétē or meditatio, and the ‘remembrance of God’ (including the terminology), it seems very likely that the early monastic practice of the Jesus prayer is very much a development of these two originally philosophical practices, transformed to suit a new Christian monastic setting. Thus, it is when these practices are elaborated in early monasticism in relation to a Christian corpus of biblical texts that we see the birth of a practice eventually ending up in the Jesus prayer. How exactly the two philosophical practices are related in pre-monastic sources deserves another study, but it is evident that they are not identical, though they have many features in common, such as a close connection to memorization,136 repetition and rumination.137

Conclusion From our three early Christian monastic sources, it is evident that the practice of the Jesus prayer was not, in its earliest period, clearly defined, but was closely related to other practices, like the recitation of and meditation (melétē) on short phrases, usually from Scripture, and the practice of ‘remembrance of God’ (mnēmē Theoú or mnēmē toú Theoú). The vocabulary and the practice in our three sources are varied – in Cassian and Diadochos, but not in Climacus, the practice is spoken of in terms of meditation (melétē); in Cassian the formula, the object of the meditation or the prayer, does not include the name of Jesus as it does in the other two; and only in Climacus does the practice seem to involve one’s breathing. Apart from this variation, however, we have discerned a quite uniform matrix of practices and aims. We can also conclude that this matrix of practices and aims largely corresponds with two related meditative practices in Greco-Roman philosophy – melétē or meditatio (in Seneca the Younger) and the ‘remembrance of God’ – not just in terminology but also in terms of aims and forms of the practices. There are, thus, good reasons to believe that the early forms of the Jesus prayer are dependent upon or originate from these two, not identical, but closely related philosophical practices (though they may not be their only sources). And it is when these two practices are elaborated in a context of early Christian monasticism that we see the birth of the Jesus prayer. In this transition from one context to another, the matrix of practices and aims remains very much the same, but there are also notable changes. The great difference pertains to the object of prayer or meditation, which, in the monastic context, is derived from new Christian sources, from Scripture; it also pertains to the transformation


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

of the philosophical meditation (melétē/meditatio) into a more clearly defined form of prayer (even though we have some examples of melétē as prayer even in imperial Stoicism138); and finally, there is also a notable change in the attitudes that one seeks to ‘engrave’ through the practice; towards attitudes that seem to be of greater importance in the new Christian monastic context than in the earlier philosophical setting.

Abbreviations AP/G = Apophthegmata Patrum: Collectio Graeca alphabetica (PG 65.72–440; Guy, 1962, pp. 19–36) PG = Migne, J.P. (1857–1866).


Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition Serafim Seppälä

University of Eastern Finland

The East Syrian tradition of Christianity flourished in the Middle and Far East for centuries, leaving behind a unique literary heritage of deep spirituality rich in meditative ideas, mostly written in Syriac in the seventh and eighth centuries. In this chapter, Serafim Seppälä argues that the main concern of this tradition was the development of a meditative attitude towards reality rather than the strict adherence to given techniques. Its meditation methods were unusually flexible and gave room for individuality and spontaneous practices. They included concentration (by opening up to deeper realities rather than restricting the focus of the mind), recitation (which might include the entire Book of Psalms in one session, or focus on a single word for seven days on end), contemplation of the cross (which carried even more symbolic meaning in this tradition than in other forms of Christianity), bodily movements (repeated prostrations as well as cross-shaped stretching of hands in prayer) and a focus on a large variety of complex thematic meditation objects, including aspects of sacred tradition, ages of human history and the nature of creation. In most cases, however, the technical details of meditation were pushed in the background, and the focus was on a meditative attitude with a continuous, undistracted, love-based and tearful remembrance of God. Seppälä argues that the ultimate aim of this kind of meditation and monastic discipline was a panoscopic vision that transcended any single perspective, in an attempt to approach God’s unrestricted view of reality.

Introduction Historical background In the first centuries of the Common Era, Christianity spread to the East far beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Due to political and theological factors, this part of the Church became an independent ecclesiastical entity and a tradition of its own, the ‘Church of the East’, oftentimes referred to as East Syrians. This Church spread throughout Asia, establishing itself for centuries as far as China. Polemically labelled


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

‘Nestorians’, the representatives of the tradition are nowadays commonly called Assyrians. After centuries of massacres, the tradition is now almost extinct. The East Syrian Church had a strong monastic tradition known for its strict asceticism, which did not, however, exclude a certain individual freedom. East Syrian monasteries were customarily of the laura type: after a few novitiate years, one typically moved to his own cell or cave to lead a hermit’s life. In addition to the translations of Evagrius and the early Church fathers, East Syrian monasticism had a rich literature of its own, written in Syriac. The heyday of this literature was during the seventh and eighth centuries around Northern Iraq. The most important East Syrian mystical authors of that period are Isaac of Nineveh, John of Dalyatha, Simeon the Graceful, Sahdona, Dadišo‛ of Qatar, ‛Abdišo‛ and Joseph the Seer (Hazzāyā), whose writings and correspondence are the main sources for the present article. The main problem with the sources is that even though there are constant references to meditation, there are no precise manuals of meditation with detailed descriptions of the practices. The teachings on meditation are diffused among other spiritual teachings and are often exhortative rather than instructive in form. The East Syrian authors were profound in analysing their inner states and deepest movements of mind, even ecstatic states, yet they managed to accomplish this almost without any technical terminology. Instead of discoursing on abstracted technical terms, the mystics used the language flexibly and dynamically  – even poetically, like John of Dalyatha. Indeed, East Syrian mystical literature is characterized by a remarkably apophatic, even sceptical, approach to the possibilities of language, as if the authors never believed in the possibility of exact correspondences between the inner world and the linguistic dimension. Consequently, the problems of East Syrian meditation cannot be solved merely by analysing the terminology in use.

Notes on terminology What kind of vocabulary is available for discussing meditative and contemplative states of mind in Syriac? There are at least half a dozen terms for meditation, each one being used in Syriac in a number of senses. The basic term is renyā, a wide concept denoting ‘anxiety’, ‘thought’, ‘reflection’ and ‘meditation’. Another common term is hergā, which refers to active meditation, even ‘study’. Likewise, hūgāyā may indicate not only ‘study’ or ‘exercise’ but also ‘meditation’. The latter two are active terms implying resolute scrutiny of inner self. The Greek loanword tē’ōryā is the most abstract term and therefore potentially the most mystical. In addition to spiritual contemplation, tē’ōryā may be used in the philosophical sense of ‘theory’, ‘inner meaning’, ‘speculation’, ‘concept’, ‘idea’, ‘view’, even ‘hypothesis’ or ‘argument’. Simeon the Graceful defines theoria as an ‘intelligible vision of the eyes of the soul’,1 but even he does not try to differentiate it from hergā or renyā. Moreover, sukkālā is a general term for any specific mental movement: an act of understanding or intuition. In mystical contexts it is usually something given rather than something actively produced. In addition to these, the concept of remembrance (‛uhdānā) often refers to something that nowadays would be called meditation: a reflective state of mind that may function half-autonomously in the psyche.

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


The Syriac terms referring to meditation or contemplation are used quite interchangeably, and the authors were not keen on differentiating between them by assigning technical definitions to them. Therefore, we encounter some basic problems already at the terminological level: how to set a dividing line between meditation and contemplation? Moreover, the concept of prayer may at times refer to meditative practices or states, even though the East Syrian mystics stress that the highest dimensions of inner spiritual activity are no longer prayer, a concept that basically refers to verbal activity, the highest forms of prayer being wordless.2 The concept of praying often refers to the recitation of the Psalms, which is to take place in a meditative way. This being the case, it would be somewhat arbitrary to draw exact distinctions between recitation and prayer, prayer and meditation or meditation and contemplation. Another difficulty is created by the double meaning of the Syriac preposition b, which may be used in an instrumental or inessive function. Therefore, general expressions such as hergā da-b-allāhā may be taken to refer to (continuous) ‘meditation on God’ or ‘meditation in God’, which in turn may be understood either as active and subjective (i.e. the transcendent God is introduced into creation by the subject’s meditative effort) or as passive and objective (i.e. the omnipresent God is perceived in creation in a contemplative vision). As for the comprehension of the subject of meditation, it is enough to note that Syriac is very rich in terms for inner man. Various aspects of the person can be referred to with terms such as nafšā (soul, self), qenōmā (self, person, substance), yāthā (self, substance), mad῾ā (mind, nous), re῾yanā (mind, thinking faculty, consciousness), tar῾īthā (thinking faculty, reason), hawnā (spirit, mind), tirtā (consciousness, innermost), mellethā (reason, logos), rūḥā (spirit). The variety allows nuances that are not easily reproduced in other languages. In addition, Syriac mystical texts include a functional parallel to the concept of subconscious, rāzā (‘secret’, ‘mystery’), a word that is used to describe aspects beyond the conscious mind. Moreover, the ‘heart’ functions as a name for inner space. In the anthropology of Semitic people – well-known from the Hebrew Bible – the heart is understood as the centre of one’s personality. In the Semitic understanding, there is traditionally no dichotomy between heart and brain, nor between feelings and reason. Human beings are understood as having one centre for both intellectual and emotional activity. In Syriac symbolical style, the heart may be called the altar whereupon spiritual offerings are being offered.3 It is also noteworthy that the use of imagination in meditation, often suspect in the Byzantine tradition, is encouraged by Isaac of Nineveh, who refers to spiritual meditation by the term šeragrāgyātā, the basic sense of which is fantasies and mirages. Isaac urges one constantly to practise šeragrāgyātā of the divine things for their fiery and purifying effects.4

Meditative practices I include within the category of meditation various intentional, reflective and introspective practices, as well as speechless forms of prayer, not called by the name of


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

prayer in the Syriac tradition. In the following, I discuss and analyse the most relevant sectors of meditative practices. In East Syrian literature, meditative activity can be divided into two types that may be aptly called ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’. In this reckoning, meditation can be defined as intentional psychic activity to be committed actively with the help of imagination and other psychic faculties; contemplation being a ‘higher state that is more passive and less intentional by nature, perhaps also more or less exceptional’.5 The definition is as problematic as any, but perhaps wide enough to start with. Meditation may lead to contemplation, which is then no longer understood as a produced state but rather a given one – an effortless immersion into transcendence. The main point in contemplation, according to Simeon the Graceful, is not what is seen, but how it is seen – a handy definition for a higher and purer state of awareness.

Concentration In East Syrian literature, exhortations to meditate on spiritual things are frequent, but often the discourse avoids references to phenomena that could be regarded as objects or methods of meditation in any technical sense. However, when one estimates these exhortations in relation to their Sitz im Leben, it is evident that we are dealing with an insightful phenomenon. Exchange of letters between hermits living in extreme asceticism and total commitment is not only religious wordplay but reflection of the values, attitudes and practices that the correspondents were entirely devoted to. Therefore, it is fully justified to distinguish in their writings descriptions of meditation, with basic elements such as concentration, repetition and self-scrutiny, as well as deeper (or higher) states of mind. The first and most essential psychological characteristic of meditation is concentration, the active control of one’s thoughts; meditation should take place with both inner and outer wakefulness. To every beginner in any tradition it is always a surprise to realize how difficult it is to think in such a strictly controlled manner. The Syriac mystics were naturally aware of this intricacy, and they did encourage developing the skill of controlled thinking by watchfulness and simple mental exercises. For example, Simeon the Graceful described a basic exercise to examine the existential state of mind by allowing it to roam around freely and then to grasp it by surprise, examining the values and concerns it is occupied with after spending some time in free associations.6 It is revealing that the aim lies not only in the ability to concentrate but also in the quality of things one concentrates on. In the Eastern Christian context, knowledge of the self and the art of inner concentration are means to inner growth and spiritual encounter with the transcendent. Meditation, the art of controlling the mind, is the most effective way to develop one’s capacity for spiritual experience. Mystical consciousness and a sense of the spiritual may be amplified through meditation, very much in the same way that the sense of beauty can be developed with the help of meditative practices. In Syriac texts concentration (kenīšūtā) is seen not only as a psychological exercise or ‘method’ but rather as a wider existential concept connected with the total

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


withdrawal from worldly pursuits. The authors emphasize that the mind must be free from distraction caused by worldly things before entering the realm of mystical consciousness. Therefore, the concept of concentration is not only a detached practice but also something that applies to one’s whole life. The aim of monastic life is to be in total concentration, in order to be capable of total participation in the transcendent reality, vividly described by the mystical authors. In short, the ability to concentrate fully results in the capacity to experience completely. When the focus of mind is fully on one object, it sees nothing else and is able to perceive it without distraction and to become aware of it thoroughly. This is why mystics are able to experience beauty in an extremely strong way through a given object: they are used to applying enhanced perception. Beauty may even be defined as the principal category in which the transcendent is experienced. In the words of John of Dalyatha, The beauty of the soul is God; if then you wish to see him in your soul for your great rejoicing, leave everything and without a thought establish in your soul concern for Him alone. You will be blessed then, because your sight will always be resplendent in the vision of Him!7

The quest for totality is the principal reason why mystical experiences are seen – in all Eastern Christian traditions – to belong mainly to the few who have first abandoned the world and worldly thoughts.8 In other words, such ‘elitism’ is not a sociological demand but a psychological reality. Spiritual ability implies mastery and specialization just like any art or science, even if it deals with experiencing something given by grace. In the ascetic life, after the preliminary difficulties have been overcome, one’s mind ‘can easily be brought to concentration (metkanneš) and be collected in the store-house of the heart after a long period of time, when it receives solid training’.9 Moreover, concentration is said to be facilitated by the occurrence of (the first) mystical states, indicating that the causality between them is understood in the reverse direction to what one might expect.10

Meditative recitation Syriac Christianity is an outgrowth of the same ancient Judaism from which the Rabbinic Judaism developed. In Judaism, the main vehicle of spiritual practice is the sacred text, and Syriac Christianity followed a similar approach: the sacred text is not only an object of interpretation, and even less a codex of regulations, but a companion in the spiritual process that is not only rational but also deeply meditative.11 The most central external objects of meditation are in the content of the Holy Writ. In particular the Psalter had a major role in the daily, weekly and annual cycles of East Syrian monastics. Psalms were recited for hours daily, and some recited the whole Psalter daily, an exercise of approximately four hours. Consequently, it was not uncommon to know the whole Psalter by heart. This means that the recitation was no longer dependent on the use of texts, which in turn freed the recitative process from


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

active intellectual operations such as perception. Therefore, portions of the Psalter could in fact function as ‘mantras’ that one recites half-automatically without any specific effort, and the mind may concentrate on the significance and associations of the wordings, that is, on the quality of the meditative recitation, as if internalizing the external object of meditation. Consequently, the East Syrians were experts in the meditative ways of reading. The sacred texts were not recited for cognitive purposes, such as obtaining information or strengthening the faith, but they rather functioned as a space for mystical orientation. The comprehension of sacred text constitutes a state of encounter with the divine – a visible, audible and verbal state in which the existential situation of the reader, and his community, is reflected in relation to the transcendent. In short, the main function of reading the Psalter was not to study or to analyse the text but rather to commune with it. One might say that in meditative recitation the words were as if directed inwards, not outwards. Attention was to be concentrated on the content of the expressions instead of their form. In a Syriac monastic letter, a brother is advised not to let his external tongue advance ahead of the mental tongue of the intellect, since a word perceptible to the senses is empty without one conceivable by the mind.12 In semantic terms, meditative reading is almost the opposite of exegetical search for literal meanings, or even allegorical ones. The reading flowing through consciousness constitutes a mental space in which the wordless meditative activity takes place. The significance conveyed by the words may colour or direct the consciousness by its contents and implications. The same approach applies also to prayer: the function of praying is not to inform God on human affairs but to adjust man’s innermost being to divine realities. Such a setting implies that a regular pattern of reading could be applied according to the needs of meditative reality. This is confirmed by the Syrian monastic literature, which was certainly not legalistic: often it seems as if the rules were made to serve the exceptions.13 Even though there were certain amounts of Psalms that one was supposed to read, quantity could become subservient to quality: the ultimate aims of recitation could be accomplished with the tiniest portion of text, even with one word. In a Syriac monastic letter it is stated that one may even be occupied with ‘one word of a psalm for seven nights and days’.14 Likewise, Simeon the Graceful gives a pithy definition of the contemplative approach to reading: ‘if the eyes of our mind are opened, every word contains a volume’.15 Nevertheless, the outer verbal constructions are a necessary framework for spiritual insight: ‘a hymn perceptible to the senses is the prerequisite for the incorporeal chant.’16 Evidently, the ascetics’ nightly exercises were not absolutely subject to given rules at the expense of intuition and inspiration. Isaac of Nineveh states that the illumined (nehīrē) and those endowed with insight (yād‛ay sukkālē) are not concerned with the sequence and order of words.17 He criticizes those who concentrate in their prayers on the mere forms of words and on counting the number of prayers in order to have their fixed programme fulfilled. Isaac considers the attentiveness to details to be a slavish rule that is utterly alien to the path of true knowledge, because it does not make allowance for divine activity. This is contrasted with the ‘rule of liberty’, which consists

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


in ‘unfailing observance of the seven offices’, but every office can include variations in the number of Psalms and in prayers.18 One does not set a time limit for each of these prayers, nor does one decide upon specific words to use. Rather, one spends on each prayer as long as Grace provides the strength, asking whatever the pressing need of the moment may require, using whatever prayer one is stirred to use.19

In such a setting, it is clear that the meditative reading and recitation could give rise to mystical awareness and open illuminative experiences. Sahdona states explicitly that the ‘work of reading the Scriptures’ fills one with joy and causes one to be ‘illuminated in prayer’. He argues that spiritual meditation (hergā rūḥānāyā) connected with reading purifies one’s soul to become fervent with love for God (ḥubbā d-allāhā) and to pray in a luminous manner.20 Isaac of Nineveh states explicitly that recitation in solitude is a factor that enables man to be drawn into ecstasy (tahrā).21 Dadišo‛ of Qatar portrays ascetics who in their vigils could recite hardly ten Psalms ‘on account of the wonders that happen to (or “visit”) them through divine grace: weeping, tears, sighs, spiritual intuitions,22 divine consolations and revelations of the Spirit’.23 According to Dadišo‛, spiritual joy has been blended with the Psalms by the Spirit, and consequently one is encouraged to concentrate on their recitation: ‘If you become worthy of this, the life of solitude will not be tiresome for you.’24 In the dynamics of recitation one may differentiate between two modes of experiencing, one positive and the other negative. On the one hand, during the reading one may depict before one’s eyes ‘the lovely beauty of the saints’ way of life’ so that one becomes ‘fervent in spirit’.25 On the other hand, continual meditation upon the Scriptures makes one also ‘feel ashamed of oneself ’. Both functions ultimately serve the same aim: the attitude of repentance, strengthened by the comparison with the ideal self as reflected in the Scriptures and monastic tradition, leads little by little to purification and illumination. The latter is described by Sahdona as the ability of the ‘eye of the soul’26 to gaze upon God at all times, which in turn enables one to approach the essential light of the divinity.27 From this one may conclude that the aim of recitation is to enable one to see the Divine with one’s inner eye. The vocal recitation may be accompanied by musical melodies, especially in the case of chanting the Psalms.28 Since a melodic way of recitation is a source of pleasure, there is an evident danger of attaching oneself to the melody instead of its reference, or even of falling into pride for one’s musical feat. Therefore, monks are advised to beware of the ‘demon of vainglory’ while chanting, for the beauty may distract one’s concentration away from praise. This is also the reason why the monks were advised in monastic literature to read more slowly during moments of dejection, and faster when pride is threatening.29

Meditation on the cross Another special case of meditation in the East Syriac tradition may be labelled as ‘mysticism of the Cross’. One is recommended, especially when beginning to pray,


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

to concentrate one’s thoughts and meditate on the Cross (ṣelībā). This has a whole philosophy behind it, the Cross being very rich in associations in the East Syrian tradition. As the sign of the resurrection of the Son of God, the Cross represents the culmination of salvation history and all human history: Since all things have been accomplished through the Cross, it is through the Cross that all things may be acquired. Consequently, the basic aim of meditation on the Cross is to strengthen the participation in the victory over death and sin achieved through the Passion of Christ.30 In the Syrian tradition the understanding of the Cross, however, is developed even further. The Cross is considered not only as a means to redemption of mankind but also as the prototype of man, and even the foundation of the universe (e.g. Yousif, 1978). The eternal creative power is said to reside mystically in the Cross, the ark of the new covenant.31 Due to the association with the power of resurrection, the cross is the ultimate symbol of eternal cosmic vitality, the new Tree of Life. All this is essential for understanding the remarks on meditation on the cross. Ultimately, meditation on the cross is meditation on life itself, on existence itself, comprehended in and through the Christ-event. Though simple in form, the cross functions like an ultimate yantra reflecting the whole created order and uncreated divine reality, and even more, it functions as the connecting factor between these two non-connectable realities. The beliefs are realized in concrete descriptions of monks’ experiences. In one monastic letter, there has survived a detailed description of an attack by the demon of distress and its expulsion by means of genuflection before the cross, followed by a state of mystical bliss. I only saluted the cross and made a prostration before the cross. After a short time he was urged by the power of the cross and let loose my tongue, and I began to praise God. . . . I was filled with unutterable joy and gladness.32

Dadišo‛ of Qatar has given a detailed example of East Syrian monks’ practices in front of the cross. ‘Kiss our Lord on His Cross, twice on the nails of His right foot and twice on the nails of His left foot, and say at each kiss: “Let me be healed with your wounds”’. In the same context, Dadišo‛ also outlines the continuity from meditation and veneration of the Cross to a mystical state. Namely, one is supposed to continue as long as his heart is ‘stirred (or “awake”) and burns in His love’.33

Bodily movements Divergent meditative practices such as recitation, prayer and veneration of the cross were regularly flavoured by constant prostrations. This being the case, it is noteworthy that there are no detailed discussions or rules on the exact numbers of prostrations. This fact, in turn, shows something essential about the East Syrian monastic atmosphere and approach to religious practice in general. The monks flavoured their prayers and night vigils with endless prostrations in a way that might be compared with the Jewish practice of flavouring the prayers by constant swaying.

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


According to a monastic letter, the ideal nightly vigil consisted of one third reading, one third recitation of psalms with prostrations and one third meditation on theological topics and singing of hymns. The author of the letter promises that one who keeps this nocturnal vigil has no struggle in daytime since his thoughts are concentrated on the good of the world to come; moreover, the one who has prepared himself for this occupation has become worthy of the ‘unspeakable blessings’ which are given in the vigil of the night.34 In addition to prostrations, the Syrian monks were famous for their custom of stretching their praying hands in the form of a cross.35 In semiotic terms, the custom was a brilliant way to turn oneself into a living sign of the cross, a credo incarnate. Likewise, in the psychological sense it was a functional way to identify oneself with the victory of the cross, as well as participating simultaneously in the victorious sufferings of Christ, and not far from the early Christian postures of prayer. Strangely, the practice was not adopted in Byzantine and Roman Catholic traditions. The philosophy of bodily movements in prayer is fundamentally connected with the holistic anthropology of the early fathers, who strictly opposed all forms of Gnostic dualism. In the East Syrian tradition, as in the whole of Eastern Christianity, the physical aspect of man is not understood as an outsider to spirituality but as an active participant, and prostrations are a standard method to activate this participation.

Thematic objects of meditation East Syrian sources mention a vast number of thematic objects that are suitable for meditation. It is noteworthy that most are neither simple concepts nor external objects but wider entities. There are specific ideas recommended for meditation, such as sin or death, or the object can be anything scriptural, like biblical stories, ‘laws of Christ’36 or the tribunal throne of Christ, or theological topics such as key events of salvation history. Moreover, the object of meditation may be a theme from the history of the Church, such as the sufferings of the martyrs, the writings of the Fathers37 or the lives of the saints. In other words, any sacred aspect of the Christian tradition can function as an object of meditation. And even more, one may meditate upon the course of history throughout the ages in a more general sense.38 Thus, meditation may deal with the whole created order, its beauty, the divine power working in it, God’s creative and dispensive powers that function in or beyond the physical or historic-empirical aspect of reality: the secret divine nature beyond existence. Or the ‘object’ may be the world to come – and, finally, God.39 Such a wide variety of topics seems to imply two things. First, a contemplative attitude is more essential than any technical pursuit. Second, meditation is intentional by character and aims at widening one’s consciousness and cognitive understanding. The concept of concentration does not logically imply narrowing: One may concentrate his consciousness by broadening it, as if focusing outwards. Isaac of Nineveh explicitly states that meditations (haggāgē) are directed towards God’s love,40 which in turn covers all. Isaac of Nineveh has given a vivid description of meditation on saints, in which the mind of the meditating person follows the holy men through the deserts and


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

forgets itself; it seems to him that he is personally in the company of the saints and sees them manifestly. By remembering their tales and meditating upon them, sleep is driven away, the spirit is strengthened and fears disappear. The mind is concentrated, and it smoothly slides into the sphere of ecstatic phenomena: tears begin to flow, the heart burns with heat and the mind is intoxicated.41 Such meditation is not only an imaginative pursuit but first of all an awareness of time being surpassed. Isaac of Nineveh also portrayed a living picture of the meditative consideration of death, resulting in a silent state of ecstatic stupor. This meditation is twofold: in the macrocosmic dimension the focus is on the beauty and order of creation, its forthcoming termination and the appearance of the new order; at the personal level, one considers ‘how long the bodies remain mixed with dust, and how that mode of life will be, and in what kind of likeness the nature will rise’ in the mode of resurrection.42 Isaac even states that ‘the fulfilment of life is meditation (hūgāyā) upon death for the sake of God’; this brings the human mind near to ‘union with God’.43 These instances suffice to exemplify the great variety of meditation. As we have seen, almost any part of the created world may serve as an uplifting medium through which one may approach the divine, given that one has the proper meditative attitude. One may note, however, that inner aspects of man (soul, spirit, etc.) as a rule do not appear among the objects of meditation, which seems mostly to be directed outwards. The most interesting exception to this rule seems to be God: in this case the meditative process is directed towards one’s innermost: ‘when I wish to see Him, I see that He is within’,44 as John of Dalyatha has it. On the other hand, the whole pursuit is an inner one – shapeless, soundless, wordless.

Meditation on God In ontological terms, meditation on God differs essentially from all the abovementioned objects, which belong to the created order. The transcendent God as an object of meditation is an endless challenge in ontological, epistemological and cognitive terms. John of Dalyatha has given a detailed description of his meditation (hergā) on God, a neverending intentional quest full of paradoxes and vivid turns. John proceeds by neglecting and forgetting whatever belongs to him, approaching the transcendent divine in meditative pursuit; he admits that the target is something he ‘cannot approach’, yet he keeps on proceeding with burning desire for God, not even hesitating to try to compel Him. John is deeply aware of the fact that any experience, cognition or awareness is unable to encounter Him in His totality (‘I seize Him but He is not held’). Therefore, John admits his own utmost cognitive helplessness even with the strongest experiences (‘whence He comes I know not’). The paradoxical fact that God is both inside and outside the meditating subject is expressed by John of Dalyatha in subjective terms (‘He is outside of me, He dwells in me’) as well as in a more general context (‘when I see Him within all, He assumes and covers all’). The immanence and transcendence of God are expressed in very personal and dynamic terms that do not lack concreteness (‘when I touch Him, He is not moved’, ‘when I inhale Him, He comes from within’). John of Dalyatha is indeed a master at describing such a paradoxical pursuit in which finding and losing seem to be

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


simultaneous: ‘I catch Him but He is not captured. When I am full, I am empty. And when I hold Him, He is not there. Yet when I dwell in Him, He dwells in me.’45 John’s portrayal of the meditation of God is full of surprising turns,46 and the paradoxical pairs of opposites are not constructed in systematic order, which implies that the narrative is not a mere literary artefact but an inspired description of a vibrant experience. John seems to submerge into depths where distinctions disappear: he not only forgets what is his own, he even forgets what is God’s. It is remarkable that even the sense of the absence of God is an important part of the meditative process and of spiritual growth. John expresses this in crystallized terms: ‘when He is hidden from me, I am hidden in Him.’ The meditating subject seems to be in constant alternation between presence and absence: Even the strongest existential or emotional experiences of the Transcendent are never the end of the process but rather a new subjective emptiness that the next meditative process may start from.

The character of meditation Towards continuous meditation Due to the wide variety of meditative objects, it is more essential to discuss the character of meditative activity itself rather than the variety of its potential topics. Generally speaking, the basic idea of meditation is to concentrate on a single thing in order to reach a more thorough awareness and comprehension of its character, or to concentrate on the meditative act itself, with the aim of leaving aside all superfluous thoughts. But how exactly is this to be done? It seems to me that it might be useful to differentiate two modes in answering this question. First, there is the technical level (discussed above): what exactly to deliberate, what exactly to repeat and so on. But then there is also the subtler level, that of attitudes and qualitative aspects: how is one to commit the deliberation, repetition and beholding, and even more importantly, how is one to face his own meditative operation in the first place? Obviously, an awareness of ‘me-beingin-meditation-here-and-now’ directs the mind to the means instead of a goal, and this makes it considerably more difficult to reach a meditative-contemplative state of mind. It may even be that this is the main obstacle to advancement in meditation. In this respect, the Eastern Christian context with its constant stress on humility as the main virtue may offer something worthy of consideration: a meditative tradition with a total ‘schema’ for achieving the meditative attitude with less attention on the technical aspects. It seems to be methodologically sensible and psychologically beneficial to give teachings on meditation in somewhat indirect form without stressing technical methods and detailed instructions. Instead, the East Syrian teachers concentrated on the second and more essential level, directing their readers towards reaching a thorough meditative attitude instead of the mechanical mastery of a meditative technique.

Meditative attitude towards reality Indeed, the East Syrian mystics may well be defined as masters of a meditative attitude towards reality. In this respect, it is relevant to note that in their perspective the concepts


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

of contemplation and meditation are not presented as methods to produce mystical states or experiences, but rather as states resulting from the mystical awareness itself. According to Dadišo‛ of Qatar, the Lord Himself fills the soul with numerous spiritual visions, so that one’s mind may rejoice in a meditative-contemplative operation that consists of 1. meditation (renyā) on the greatness of the divine nature; 2. contemplation (hergā) of the glorious Trinity; 3. continuous support (‛udrānā) of the Love of Christ and of the light of his divine glory; 4. meditation (renyā) on the hierarchies of angels; 5. cogitation (‛uhdānā) on Paradise and on the ‘spirits of the perfected’;47 6. cogitation on the apparition of the Lord from heaven and on the ascension of the holy ones to heaven.48 Instead of separate practices or exact techniques of meditation, the stress in the discourse is on a permanent meditative attitude towards life, ‘continuous remembrance’. Isaac’s homilies are full of exhortations to meditate constantly and other references to constant meditation.49 Meditation on God is supposed to continue day and night50 – and especially in the night.51 It may be noted here that when one is encouraged to meditate through the night, this is supposed to take place in seated position.52 Isaac states that beginners are able to concentrate their thoughts for passing periods of purity only, while advanced meditation is akin to clean and tranquil air that keeps the mind pacified and concentrated for long periods without any remembrance of worldly things. In short, the monk’s aim is to reach a state of unceasing meditation on God.53 This is also one way to differentiate between meditation and contemplation: When the meditative activity takes place naturally and continues for long periods, it can be called contemplation. The following extract from Sahdona illustrates an ideal case of a person living in a contemplative attitude: The stirrings of his soul are meditating (rānēn) on God continuously, and his heart is carried away towards Him. His body is sojourning on earth, but his mind (madde‛ā) is living in heaven with Christ. His body has died away from this world and his soul burns with love of the heavenly ones. He stands amidst corporeal beings, but his mind (re‛yānā) is moving swiftly among spiritual ones and is sanctifying (i.e. chanting ‘Holy holy holy’).54

What, then, is a meditative attitude like? Contrary to what might be expected, the emotional quality of a meditative attitude is not inert, apathetic or immovable. Instead, the attitude is most compassionate, and not absolutely impassionate, which can be seen through the fact that it is frequently accompanied by tears. When a pupil asks Isaac of Nineveh about the character of meditation, the lengthy answer in fact deals with tears and weeping only; the ‘gift of tears’ is presented as a constant meditative state.55 Isaac states in various contexts that meditation gives rise to tears, and ‘constant weeping’ arises from the meditation, or ‘reflection’ (renyā) of knowledge.56 This somewhat

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


extraordinary emphasis may be seen as an extreme practical application of the fact that Christian mysticism is based on love rather than ontological emptiness or unity with the Absolute in an abstract sense. The constant meditative attitude towards reality may also be illustrated by mystics’ remarks on sleeping. The East Syrian mystical texts report cases in which meditation has penetrated the unconscious levels of the psyche, resulting in meditation while (half) asleep. Simeon the Graceful mentions such half-asleep meditation, where the one who falls asleep is recommended to ‘throw sweet spices of prayers, psalms and spiritual theory on the censer of your heart, and meditate (harog) upon them while you are half asleep’. Simeon concludes: ‘When you wake you will feel the happiness that has wafted through your soul all the night.’57 According to Simeon, this is also a way of being liberated from bad dreams. Isaac of Nineveh, obviously speaking about himself in the third person, mentions a case in which meditation (theoria) on the things read in the evening continued during sleep and led to ecstasy (tahrā) that overwhelmed the sleeper so that he suddenly woke up ‘while his tears dropped as water and fell upon his breast’.58 Ecstatic experiences may also take place during the night while one is between sleep and wakefulness, ‘asleep though not asleep, and awake though not awake’.59 The question of ‘effects of meditation’ sounds simple and well-defined. In the light of the East Syrian sources, however, the question is a tricky one. First, there is a straightforward difficulty. The authors present as effects of meditation assertions that by their basic meaning seem to describe the meditation itself. For example, Isaac of Nineveh states that meditation ‘binds ordinary thoughts’60  – when meditation is all about binding the thoughts. This can be passed as one way of making the teaching on meditation implicit: the authors do not say that during meditation ‘you must bind your thoughts’ but they rather take meditation as the subject, almost making it a personal agent. From such remarks, however, we may learn that the inner concentration and the lack of distraction achieved in meditation may indeed remain after the meditation, to some extent at least. This in turn is one constituent of what has been called a meditative attitude towards life. In other words, the main aims and benefits of meditation are not to take place during the meditation but afterwards. Isaac states that meditation is a way to press into the soul useful things and images that help one to remain in pure prayer.61 The second problem is more complicated. The authors stress that the best instances of meditation and meditative practices, such as recitation, take place after the strongest mystical experiences. In other words, the mystical life is not reducible into exact components with causative relations (experiences caused by a meditative technique), but there is an endless interaction between meditation, mystical awareness and mystical experiences that strengthen each other gradually during the years of ascetic struggle. This leads us to the theme of the final section.

Meditation and the mystical experience The prevalent trend in twentieth-century-scholarly literature on mysticism was to consider meditation merely as a technique leading towards mystical experience. The


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

East Syrian texts, however, do not fit into this paradigm: concepts such as meditation and silence are not presented as techniques through which one is supposed to proceed but something given and profoundly mystical. The characteristics of basic meditative practices are in fact similar to the qualities of the mystical experience itself.62 Tranquillity, peace, sense of unity, sense of reality and other characteristics that scholars generally attribute to mystical experience are not only features of extraordinary moments waiting at the end of the road, but even more so they are basic attributes of the meditative state. This is clearest in the case of the sense of unity, which may be taken as a variation or interpretative abstraction of the active concentration from which all meditation begins. Moreover, it goes without saying that peacefulness belongs to the world of meditation free from distractions, and the same applies to the sense of reality: in meditation one leaves behind all the accidental aspects of reality and focuses on the essential kernel of being. This, I believe, is something essential to consider for all scholars of mystical traditions. From this perspective, the value of meditation is increased significantly, and the mystical dimension is brought considerably nearer – one could say that the mystical experience is demystified without profaning it. Mystical experience is not only an outgrowth of meditative practices but largely – even basically – identical with these. Here again the process proceeds without borderlines from meditation to mystical awareness and from mystical awareness to mystical experiences, perhaps without any substantial changes in psychological qualities. I think this perspective does full justice to the texts of East Syrian mystics with their stress on holism and avoidance of explicit differentiation between the categories of techniques and results in spiritual life. This, in turn, sets the whole concept of meditation into a new light: It is not only a human practice of psychological activity in anticipation of forthcoming spiritual occurrences, but a true encounter with the mystical divine reality, inside one’s inner self. Likewise, mystical experience is not a distinct entity but a part of mystical awareness and personal existence, as Steven Katz and others have stressed in recent studies on mysticism.

The illuminated mind What has been said above means that meditation may naturally grow into a mystical state, a sense of total unity in which neither distinctions nor the discerning faculties seem to be present. ‛Abdišo‛ the Seer has aimed to produce an analytical description of such a state: Mind will not even perceive and distinguish itself [. . .] neither thought (renyā) of anything, nor any consciousness (ḥuššābā) or remembrance (maḥšabtā), nor any impulses (zaw‛ē) and inward movements (refāfē), but only ecstasy in God (temhā de-b-allāhā) and an ineffable rapture (tahrā de-lā metmallal).63

East Syrian concentration in its developed forms is a state of being in which the mind is emptied of all sense perception. In terms of practical logic, this in fact comes close to what in Asian traditions is termed in a reverse way as ‘filling the mind with nothingness’.

Meditation in the East Syrian Tradition


Silence of the senses in the rare state of pure prayer was an important theme for East Syrian authors such as Isaac of Nineveh, to name one. In short, the East Syrian mystics make it clear that a meditative way of life is to bring about inner illumination,64 yet the essential aspect is the meditative attitude that gives rise to mystical awareness. For instance, John of Dalyatha states that constant yearning for and beseeching of the love of God is the basic cause of all mystical gifts and inner purification. He calls this a ‘mother that gives birth to the new secrets of the new world’.65 All the various modes of mystical awareness reached through a meditative attitude may be impossible to enumerate, or even describe. In this context I want to raise the question as to whether one could use the concept of ‘panoscopic vision’ in the case of mystics such as East Syrian ones.66 Ordinary human thinking is characterized by perspectivism, but the aim of mystics is to transfigure towards the likeness of God, and God’s perspective certainly is not restricted by angles. Therefore, a panoscopic vision of reality would mean a higher state of consciousness in which one may gaze at the objects from all sides at once by inner vision. In the case of mystics, the point would not lie in panoscopic views of particular physical objects (like Picasso did in his paintings!) but in the comprehension of abstract and existential entities such as human destinies. Indeed, this seems to be how the East Syrian mystics approached the world, humanity, as well as ecclesiastical affairs: they viewed such things as if from all sides at once. This would explain their unwillingness to judge anyone or to engage in dogmatic disputes or any other activities based on one-sided perspectives of reality. Their approach may be seen as an indirect consequence of meditative and mystical experiences. Finally, the sum of our pursuits could be expressed with a single quotation from John of Dalyatha who has defined the aim of human life in general, and the nucleus of the present topic in particular, with the following words: ‘When cut off from all, and you meditate on God continually, you are divine and become like God. This is the sum of all our pursuits.’67


The Pathless Path of Prayer: Is There a Meditation Method in Meister Eckhart? Jeffrey Cooper

University of Portland

‘Whoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God.’ This and other sayings by the German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260–1328) seem to indicate a clear stance against methodical approaches to meditation and contemplation. Still, Jeffrey Cooper asks if Eckhart’s writings do not after all point to a meditation method. In line with Eckhart’s many paradoxical statements about a pathless path and groundless ground, Cooper suggests that the answer to his question is both yes and no, and that Eckhart does give us a venue, if not exactly a method, for meditation. Cooper seeks to locate elements of that venue on the basis of Eckhart’s sermons, and with reference to contemporary cultural phenomenology. Eckhart’s basic attitude is one of detached tolerance for the indeterminancy involved in being at one and the same time both human and divine, body and soul, caught and free, dark and light. Both hearing and seeing are important, though hearing is closer to God, because it directs the attention inward rather than outward. This opens up a potential receptivity for incarnatio continua, for the simultaneous homnification and deification represented by Christ, as an ongoing process within each of us.

The question this chapter seeks to answer is whether or not one can discern a method of meditation in the spiritual writings of the late medieval Dominican mystic, theologian and preacher, Meister Eckhart (1260–1328). The answer seems immediately obvious if one is to honour the thought of the Meister himself who once preached: Because truly, when people think that they are acquiring more of God in inwardness, in devotion, in sweetness and in various approaches than they do by the fireside or in the stable, you are acting just as if you took God and muffled his head up in a cloak and pushed him under a bench. Whoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God, who in ways is hidden. (Colledge and McGinn, 1981, p. 183)


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

And elsewhere he proclaimed: ‘Truly thou art a hidden God’ (Isaiah 45:15), in the ground of the soul where God’s ground and the soul’s ground are one ground. The more we seek thee, the less we find thee. You must seek Him in such a wise that you never find Him. If you do not seek Him, you will find Him. (ibid., p. 192)

But yet, I suggest the answer to our question is not a simple no but a yes and no. Meister Eckhart is not so much interested in teaching methods of prayer as he is in teaching his listeners then and readers now how to pay attention to their own embodied experience; Eckhart does not offer so much a method for prayer, and even less a technique, but he instead suggests a venue for prayer. Central to Eckhartian spirituality is an understanding of the Christian doctrine of Incarnation as incarnatio continua, or incarnation as an ongoing process that all of humanity is undergoing since Christ. So with this at the centre of my project I will argue, through the lens of contemporary Cultural Phenomenology, that what is of the moment for Eckhart is not ‘ways’ of prayer but the recognition of a venue for prayer, or more exactly, the type of body that can serve as a path of access to the divine, even if it must always remain a pathless path. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, is foundational to Meister Eckhart’s theology and spirituality. For Eckhart the lived reality of this doctrine provides the basic pattern for understanding how divinity intersects with humanity. Incarnation is not a historically completed fact of history, but a dynamic process begun in Christ and continuing today and beyond. As Dietmar Mieth writes: Christ is not a stage in the history of salvation but rather the salvational inner structure of history. This inner structure is at the same time dynamic and perpetually present: creatio and incarnatio continua. Incarnation is the epitome of historicity. (Mieth, 2003, p. 326)

Eckhart himself develops this notion of incarnatio continua in his treatises, biblical commentaries and sermons. For example, he writes in his Latin commentary on the Gospel of John: Note that the first fruit of the Incarnation of the Word, who is the natural Son of God, is that we should be God’s sons through adoption. It would be of little value for me that ‘the Word was made flesh’ for man in Christ as a person distinct from me unless he was also made flesh in me personally so that I too might be God’s son. (Colledge and McGinn, 1981, p. 167)

He also offers the following thought in his vernacular Sermon 5b:1 ‘I shall say something else that has more application to us: God did not only become man – he took human nature upon himself ’ (ibid., p. 182). In a Christmas cycle of four sermons that Eckhart gave to his fellow Dominican friars between 1303 and 1305, and which has been referred to as the ‘summa’ of his mystical thought (McGinn, 2001, p. 54), the Meister

The Pathless Path of Prayer


follows this same incarnational thread by quoting St. Augustine who said, ‘What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters’ (Walshe, 1979, p. 1). Meister Eckhart does not only apply the logic of the incarnation to the human person but also applies the claims of that particular Christian belief (Turner, 1995, p. 166).2 Eckhart also identifies what for him is the basic incarnational pattern of spiritual experience as he comments on a quote from the Hebrew Scriptures’ Book of Wisdom writing: ‘When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word’ (emphasis mine).3 Incarnatio continua forms a dynamic pattern that is central for Eckhart; the Word that is above leaps down, not to rest upon us but enter into us as we participate in what Bernard McGinn has called ‘an ever-present homnification of God and deification of humanity and the universe’ (McGinn, 2001, p.  115). Incarnatio continua, therefore, is also an ongoing process rife with potentially creative tension for the human subject, who becomes aware of his or her participation in it. Becoming aware of that tension and learning to live in it are the all-important first steps to be taken if one is seeking intimacy with God. The tension created between ongoing homnification and deification provides both the invitation into deeper transformation as well as the biggest obstacle to that transformation: experiences of groundlessness. So Eckhart is not just concerned with cultivating awareness of this tension but also with teaching how to be steadfast in the midst of it. Eckhart himself seemed profoundly aware that when human beings are confronted with such an existential tension and instability they often, rather than submit to the unknown Spirit at work within, will instead cling to any known materiality without to maintain some modicum of control. This is why Eckhart so often counselled abegescheidenheit or detachment as the most necessary spiritual praxis. Eckhartian detachment, though, did not only mean letting go of the things to which we cling but letting go of the desire to cling itself. As Denys Turner succinctly defines it, for Eckhart detachment is the practice of ‘dispossessing desire of its desire to possess’ (Turner, 1995, p. 183). As Turner also makes clear, for Eckhart, the problem is not human desire itself, but the human desire to possess that may provide the illusion of control but always leads to the destruction of what is possessed: Detachment, for Eckhart, is not the severing of desire’s relation with its object, but the restoration of desire to a proper relation of objectivity; as we might say, of reverence for its object. Detachment is therefore the basis of the true possibility of love, which is why, for Eckhart, it is more fundamental than love, being the condition of its possibility. (ibid.)

The predicament of the human person in Meister Eckhart’s spiritual system is always that of one undergoing the process and dynamic tension of incarnatio continua. In the Dominican’s system human beings occupy an in-between space where choices such as favouring divine over human or human over divine, soul over body or body over soul are patently false choices. The choice to be made is to stand fast in the midst of


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the ongoing process; to learn to occupy the uncertainty of ‘in-betweenness.’ As Turner further delineates: If it is a puzzle to know how Eckhart means to speak of the intersection of the divine and the human within the human, the one thing that can be said is that, for Eckhart, I could not find my identity in a choice between them. Any theological position which requires me to choose between the divine and the human, between my uncreated self and my created, must be, for Eckhart, a symptom of the disintegration of the self. Eckhart states clearly that the occurrence of the disjunction between the created, temporal, embodied self on the one hand, and the highest part of the soul, its ground, on the other, can only be the result of that fracturing of the intimacy between God and the soul which we call ‘sin’. (ibid., pp. 146–7)

Choosing to be situated in this in-between space then opens the human subject to what I submit is the fundamental human experience for Eckhart: the experience of indeterminancy. The twentieth-century French Phenomenologist, Maurice MerleauPonty states that, There is in human existence a principle of indeterminancy, and this indeterminancy is not only for us, it does not stem from some imperfection of our knowledge, and we must not imagine that any God could sound our hearts and minds, and determine what we owe to nature and what to freedom. Existence is indeterminate in itself, by reason of its fundamental structure, and in so far as it is the very process whereby the hitherto meaningless takes on meaning. (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 152)

Though Eckhart might argue with how Merleau-Ponty dismisses any role for the divine in this perceptual experience, I believe that for the Meister access to the divine meant the human willingness to encounter one’s own existential indeterminancy. For Eckhart this indeterminancy is the primary human experience of participation in incarnatio continua; a true mark of one who lives situated between human and divine, created and uncreated, body and soul. Eckhart demonstrates the centrality of this indeterminancy throughout his spiritual writings, and especially in his vernacular sermons, as he creates concepts by which he hoped to capture something of this experience in language. Again it is helpful here to turn once more to the texts in which Eckhart is specifically dealing with the ramifications of what it means to say, ‘The Word was made flesh’. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, as he examines the relationship of ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ stemming from his comment on the Johannine quote: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it’ (Jn 1.5), Eckhart writes: ‘The light shines in the darkness’, because detestation and hatred of evil always comes from and are born of love of the good. So Augustine says that in the same measure that someone delights in his own justice, he is displeased with that alien injustice that belongs to others, according to the verse in Matthew, ‘When the

The Pathless Path of Prayer


wheat sprang up. . . then the weeds appeared too’ (Mt. 13:26). Thus, the darkness glorifies God, and the light shines in it, not so much as opposites placed next to each other, but rather as opposites placed within each other. (Colledge and McGinn, 1981, p. 152)

This conceptualization of light and darkness as opposites, not placed side by side, but rather within each other, I believe is the hermeneutical key for understanding Eckhart’s mysticism. The relationship of light and darkness serves as the primary symbol, throughout Eckhart’s works, for the relationship between human and divine, created and uncreated. And if these are ‘placed within each other’, again an experience of indeterminancy results. Eckhart will further attempt to theorize on this basic relationship when in his Christmas sermon cycle he coins the Middle High German (MHG) term, mügelich enpfencliheit or potential receptivity (McGinn, 2001, p.  63). The Meister determines that in the ongoing relationship between light and darkness the darkness always exists as a site of potential receptivity. One’s willingness to stay in darkness then, and its uncertainty, is necessary if one wishes to come to the light. Eckhart then further attempts to flesh out this rather theoretical-philosophical term with another concept by which he attempts to better capture lived human experience itself. Later in his Sermon 4, after he introduces the term potential receptivity, Eckhart concludes with an image of God as a fisherman, human beings as fish and love as the hook by which God catches them, as he preaches: For love resembles the fisherman’s hook. The fisherman cannot get the fish till it is caught on the hook. Once it takes the hook, he is sure of the fish; twist and turn as it may, this way or that, he is assured of his catch. And so I say of love; he who is caught by it has the strongest bonds, and yet a pleasant burden. He who has taken up this sweet burden fares further and makes more progress than by all harsh practices any men use. Therefore, just watch for this hook, so as to be blessedly caught (gevangener): for the more you are caught, the more you are free (vrier). (Walshe, 1979, pp. 46, 47; emphasis mine)

I have dubbed the Eckhartian concept presented here as gevangener-vrier or the experience of caught-free. This notion so vividly captures the human experience of indeterminancy: The lived-in-the-flesh experience of very real human limitation within the reality of limitless divine possibility. Living in the in-between space of incarnatio continua, in the ‘on-going homnification of the divine and deification of the human’, is always an experience of being both caught and free. And for Eckhart the choice again is not for capture or freedom but to opt to live in both and allow the tension to open us to the transformative experience of the divine. Eckhart throughout his works will multiply these paradoxical concepts as he insistently attempts to capture something of this human experience of indeterminancy for his audiences. In his German Sermon 80 (Sermon 42 in the Quint system) he will term it the groundless ground, as he writes, ‘Understand all our perfection and all our bliss depends on our traversing and transcending all creatureliness, all being and


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

getting into the ground that is groundless [den grunt, der gruntlôs ist]’ (Walshe, 1979, vol. II, p. 238). In his Sermon 86, where he famously re-configures the Mary-Martha, and therefore Contemplation-Action, paradigm, he speaks of the wegloser weg or pathless path as he says: ‘The second path is a pathless path, free yet bound, raised aloft and wafted off almost beyond self and all things, beyond will and images’ (McGinn, 1986, p. 341). Also in this same sermon he employs the term umberinc der êwicheit or rim of eternity. This is where he locates the biblical figures of Martha and St. Peter, and by extension all of those who are still on the way; those who see or experience God but not in his ‘ownness’ (ibid.). Finally, this indeterminancy is at the heart of the concept which Eckhart borrowed from the Beguine Mystics, and which serves as the basic goal of the spiritual life on this plane of existence, that of âne warumbe or living without a why. According to the Dominican as long as one clings to ‘whys’ (just like one who clings to ‘ways’) then one is not free and is still living in alienation from God.4 Where, though, does all this take us in our search of a meditation method in Meister Eckhart? I believe it lays the foundation for how Eckhart understood basic human experience of the divine. How, though, does one situate him or herself physically, or bodily, in order to enter into this experience and its potential for encountering the divine? In order to explore this more fully I think it will be helpful to further try and interpret Eckhart’s understanding of indeteminancy through the lens of Cultural Phenomenology. The multiple concepts that Eckhart creates and stretches in order to capture something of the human experience of incarnatio continua also highlight a central tenet of the Meister’s spirituality: it is relentlessly non-dualistic. Actually his spiritual thought, I contend, is dependent on non-dualism because it is the tension between two seeming opposites held in relationship that provides, for Eckhart, the potential entrée into intimacy with the divine. We see this especially at work in his treatment of the body-soul relationship. Eckhart does not opt for a pervasively negative approach to the role of the body in spiritual experience. When he does use negative descriptors for the body, as he does in the final sermon of his Christmas cycle, he immediately undercuts such descriptions by downplaying the role of penitential exercises that require bodily asceticisms. Eckhart preaches in Sermon 4: Pay attention. Penitential exercises, among other things, were instituted for a particular purpose: whether it is fasting, watching, praying, kneeling, being disciplined, wearing hair-shirts, lying hard or whatever it may be, the reason for all that is because the body and flesh are always opposed to the spirit. The body is often too strong for the spirit, and there is a real fight between them, an unceasing struggle. (Walshe, 1979, vol. I, p. 46)

He then immediately ameliorates this more negative approach to the body by stating the following: All this is done to bring [the body] under control; but if you would capture and curb it in a thousand times better fashion, then put on the bridle of love! With love you overcome it most surely, with love you load it most heavily. Therefore God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as with love. (ibid.)

The Pathless Path of Prayer


This then leads to his creation of the experiential concept which I call gevangener-vrier or caught-free. Eckhart develops an understanding of the human body as a source for experiencing this ‘caught-freedom’. This is both consonant with his conceptualization of incarnatio continua and his non-dualistic approach to the spiritual life. I think to further examine the Eckhartian understanding of the body, in relationship to the soul and as a site for participation in spiritual experience, it will be useful now to turn to contemporary Cultural Phenomenology, and especially the term Leib or Lived-Body. I have contended that Meister Eckhart developed an understanding of human embodiment that is inherently marked by an existential indeterminancy. One very useful way of interpreting this comes from Cultural Phenomenology, especially in the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Drew Leder and the anthropologist Thomas Csordas, who once wrote: With respect to religion, the question goes beyond the distinction between natural and supernatural bodies, or between natural corporeality and divine incorporeality, to the question posed by Feher of the kind of body that members of a culture endow themselves with in order to come into relation with the kind of deity they posit to themselves. If we are to assert that the body is a cultural phenomenon, religion is one domain of culture that offers evidence rich enough to help us grasp the significance of that assertion. (Csordas, 1994, p. 3; emphasis mine)

What I want to explore here is the relationship between the kind of body and the kind of deity Eckhart and his audiences are positing to themselves as a means to enter into relationship with the divine. Csordas, developing much of his thought here out of the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, presents an embodiment paradigm whose principal characteristic is ‘the collapse of dualities between mind and body, subject and object’. The body here is ‘methodological figure’. It is both being-in-the-world, or site of immediate experience, and representation, or a site of reflection upon, and objectification of, experience (Csordas, 1999, p. 147). Or as Drew Leder offers, the body is always both ecstatic and recessive. The body, Leder continues, is flesh and blood: The term flesh and blood suggests a dimension of depth hitherto unspoken. Beneath the surface flesh, visible and tangible, lies a hidden vitality that courses within me. Blood is my metaphoric term for this viscerality. ‘Flesh and blood’ expresses well the chiasmatic identity-in-difference of perceptual and visceral life. The expression itself appears in certain dictionaries as if one word. To be ‘flesh and blood’ is clearly to be one thing, a life entire unto itself. Yet the ‘and’ is never expunged suggesting an écart, a divergence of two existential levels. (Leder, 1990, p. 66)

The body is always projecting itself outward in known materiality and at the same time falling back into unknown depths. And as Leder writes the ‘and’ is never expunged and suggests an écart or ‘divergence’ or ‘fission’. Merleau-Ponty would call this dehiscence or incessant escaping. Perhaps here it would be helpful to offer a more concrete image that comes from Merleau-Ponty himself. In discussing his notion of embodiment, Merleau-Ponty offers


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the image of two hands touching. He writes that when my left hand touches my right hand I have the experience of being both a body sensing and a body sentient. In the convergence of my left hand with my right I am both toucher and touched but there can never be complete coincidence because as soon as I realize I am toucher then I am not the touched and vice versa. There is always an écart, or dehiscence; a fission not a fusion. This incessant escaping is a continual basic disruption or an existential experience of indeterminancy. Merleau-Ponty would also write of this as being the experience of intertwining and reversibility. He posits that the body has a double-belongingness, it is always both object and subject (Merleau-Ponty, 1968, pp. 136–7, 138, 141, 146–8). The ‘and’ always both connects and separates the two. This experience then forms the basis for what Csordas and Leder will call the ‘Lived Body’. ‘Lived Body’ is the somewhat limited English translation of the German word Leib. Leib is ‘the live-body-self-subject’ that is in relationship with Körper understood as the physical body (Csordas, 1994, p. 16). As Leder writes, ‘These are not two different bodies, Körper itself is an aspect of Leib, one manner in which the lived body shows itself ’ (Leder, 1990, p.  6). ‘The lived body is thus first and foremost not a located thing but a path of access, a being-in-the-world’ (ibid., p. 21; emphasis mine). This understanding of the Lived Body as ‘path of access’ I believe can be an especially fruitful way of interpreting the role of the body in Meister Eckhart’s spiritual system. If the body is both subject and object, sensing and sentient, yet never both at once, always providing an experience of écart or incessant escaping, then it is also, in Eckhartian language, a wegloser weg, or pathless path, a site for the experience of caught-free. The Lived Body in the act of prayer or meditation is both means of access as it is also obstacle. And what Eckhart wants to teach us is how entrée into intimacy with God requires our willingness to be attentive to and to step into the écart. Here then is where detachment becomes necessary. One must resist the drive to cling or possess once the awareness of disorienting indeterminancy takes hold; a feeling that may be somewhat like vertigo. It is via this experience that the human subject reaches the interior place where as Eckhart claims, ‘God’s ground is my ground, and my ground is God’s ground’ (Colledge and McGinn, 1981, p. 183). But it is always a groundless ground. There is a Heideggerian dictum that states ‘language can disclose experience’. In light of this I suggest that Eckhart’s multiple conceptualizations of incarnatio continua, such as darkness-light, potential receptivity, caught-free, pathless path, rim of eternity and living without a why are all attempts on his part to articulate something of what occurs at the intersection of the human and the divine. Eckhart also suggests that if we pay attention to this existential experience of indeterminancy, we enter into a destabilizing space where we can either choose to grasp harder onto material things, or detach and fall into the abyss of God. For Eckhart, on the human plane of existence, we are always somewhere in-between, but with practice and attention we can learn to let go and encounter the divine. Csordas also develops a concept that may be helpful here: Somatic Modes of Attention. He offers this as a means by which we can attend to the Lived Body experience; a level of perception where there is no subject-object distinction. It is where we are ‘simply in the world’. As Csordas defines it: ‘Somatic modes of attention are culturally elaborated ways of attending to and with one’s body in

The Pathless Path of Prayer


surroundings that include the embodied presence of others’ (Csordas, 1993, p. 138). In Eckhart’s spiritual system such modes of attention, for a body understood to be always existing within the ‘on-going homnification of the divine and deification of the human’, may be a useful way to grapple with his pathless path of prayer. One sermon in which Meister Eckhart touches upon how we might enter this in-between space via attention to specific modes of perception is Sermon 12. Eckhart develops this sermon based on the scriptural passage, Ecclesiasticus 24.22, ‘Who hears me is not ashamed: and who works in me does not sin’ (McGinn, 1986, p. 267).5 According to research done by Alois Haas, a date for this sermon can be ascribed with some certainty. He suggests 8 September 1325, which on the Roman Catholic Church calendar is the feast of Maria Geburt, or the Birth of Mary (Haas, This would place Eckhart in Cologne where he was assigned in 1324 to the Studium Generale after his ministry of the cura monialium in Strassburg from 1313–23/24.6 The date 1325 also places this sermon prior to when Eckhart was summoned before the diocesan inquistion in 1326 by Archbishop Henry of Virneburg. But this is also after Eckhart had already been made aware of suspicions about his orthodoxy as, during his tenure in Strassburg, he composed his Book of Divine Consolation in which he offers an early defence of his teaching.7 Haas also suggests with some certainty that this particular sermon was delivered to the Benedictine nuns at the Convent of St. Maccabaeorum in Cologne (ibid.). Overall then we have a late sermon of Meister Eckhart, delivered to a cloistered community of religious women on the feast of Mary’s birth. This sermon is of particular interest for my project here because in it Eckhart specifically discusses the ground or spark of the soul and how one might get in touch with that ground via attention to the senses, specifically vision and hearing.8 Before moving forward though it will be helpful to remember how the senses of sight and hearing were understood in the late Middle Ages. To review the operations of and the relationship between vision and hearing in Eckhart’s time I will turn to the work of David Chidester, who has done excellent work in summarizing this material in light of the phenomenology of perception. In his book Word and Light: Seeing, Hearing, and Religious Discourse, Chidester summarizes the ancient-to-mediaeval person’s understanding of hearing and vision based upon how they were conceptualized in Greek philosophy. The two perceptual theories that will be of interest here are ‘Intromission’ and ‘Extramission’. The Atomists formulated the intromission theory of vision, in which ‘images from the object of vision were imagined to enter the eye to be simulated there as in a mirror’ (Chidester, 1992, p.  3). The extramission theory was popularized by Plato. He contended that ‘seeing [was] the result of visual rays emitted by the eye’ (ibid.). Plato suggested three elements in this theory: (1) visual rays emitting outward from the eye, (2) the reflection from external objects and (3) an external source of light that seals the bond between the two (ibid., p.  4). Aristotle in turn reasoned that vision results from a process of change, a change from potentiality to actuality (ibid., pp. 4–5). Seeing, for Aristotle, results from a relationship between organ and object based on immediacy or continuity. As for hearing, in general, the Greeks believed it to be a result of a blow to the air caused by an external object. Aristotle cites three elements in the act of hearing: (1) a sonant body, (2) a shock to that sonant body produced by an agent


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and (3) a change in the medium between the sonant body and the ear (ibid., p. 4). Chidester further explains: An external agent acted upon the air and was only known by the effect that the air-shock eventually had upon the subject. In hearing, the object of perception was not immediately present to the perceiver as it was in vision. There was no presence, no connection, no continuous bond between the subject and the object of perception. (ibid., p. 7)

So right away we discover that hearing and seeing represent different relationships with the world. As Chidester suggests, ‘the initiative for perception tends to begin with the subject in vision yet with the object in hearing’ (ibid.). As Augustine understood it, ‘Vision is associated with space, continuity, and the contemplation of order, while the verbal, aural; or auditory mode is associated with time, discontinuity, and the dynamic engagement with action’ (ibid., p.  13). So in summary we have vision associated with immediacy, continuity, subjectivity and space, while hearing is associated with delay, discontinuity, objectivity and time. So as Chidester concludes, what we have in phenomenology of perception is that ‘the difference between seeing and hearing makes a difference in the fundamental orientation of human beings in their world’ (ibid., p. 8). Eckhart, in general, seems to be working out of the Greek philosophical understandings of perception. He seems at times to straddle both the theories of extramission and intromission. He believes the eye emits a visual ray and therefore vision is active (extramission) while hearing, because it is dependent on the action of an external agent, is passive (intromission). It is because of this distinction between active and passive that, in his spiritual system, Eckhart gives pride of place to hearing over vision. He develops this understanding of hearing specifically in the second sermon of his Christmas cycle, Sermon 2. Here he states the following: There must be a stillness and a silence for this Word to make itself heard. We cannot serve this Word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there too we will understand it aright. . . . That is why one master declares that the sense of hearing is nobler than that of sight, for we learn more wisdom by hearing than by seeing, and in it live the more wisely. Hearing draws in more, but seeing rather leads outwards – the very act of seeing does this. Therefore in eternal life we shall rejoice far more in our power of hearing than in that of sight. For the act of hearing the eternal Word is within me, but the act of seeing goes forth from me: in hearing, I am passive, but in seeing I am active. (Walshe, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 21–2)

Central to Eckhart’s spiritual teaching is the notion of inwardness. He states in a later sermon, Sermon 50, given 6 January 1326 on the Feast of Epiphany (Haas, www.eckhart. de/): ‘You must be internalized, from yourself and within yourself, so that He is in you’ (Walshe, 1979, vol. II, p. 46). So with one’s spiritual progress depending on inwardness and passivity Eckhart therefore extols hearing. Unlike Augustine, who viewed audition as engaged action in the world, Eckhart follows the Pauline injunction that ‘faith comes

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by what is heard’ (Rom. 10.17), and hearing requires a certain passivity by the individual in the context of stillness and silence. Elsewhere Eckhart would also aver that ‘The Father’s speaking is his giving birth; the Son’s hearing is his being born’ (McGinn, 2001, p. 61). For a mystical teacher whose central tenet is that, through incarnatio continua, we all are becoming God’s ‘son’, hearing is indeed then the premiere sense. Eckhart, though, does also address vision, even if he regards it of lesser importance among the perceptive powers because it externalizes the individual leading him or her into the world of two-ness and alienation from God. Sight requires mediation, as Eckhart believed, in seeing the image does not exist of itself in the eye and can only be incorporated once any unlikeness is burnished away: With us no matter how close the object of sight approaches the faculty of sight, we never see unless the visible image itself (the same image as that of the visible thing) is imprinted on and transferred to our ‘dwells in’ the one who sees. If there were a different image in the one and the other, the person who sees would not be seen through or in the image in the one who sees. And so the object and the faculty of sight would not be one in act, as Aristotle says. (Colledge and McGinn, 1981, p. 169)

Any image, or medium, in Eckhart’s system always interferes with true unity with the divine and so for him vision, in how it is understood in its operation, is by its nature faulty when it comes to ‘seeing’ the divine. Recall that the spiritual movement of incarnatio continua is the Word descending into the human subject. Anything that interferes with this moving within interferes with one’s achieving union with God. Of course the human person perceives his or her world through both vision and hearing. Therefore in the Eckhartian system such a person is, in as far as they are utilizing these two senses, always in-between subject and object, time and space, immediacy and delay, presentation and representation, continuity and discontinuity. The human person lives always in a ‘double-orientation’ which resonates well with Merleau-Ponty’s ‘double-belongingness’. The senses, as Eckhart understands them, render the body as a Lived Body with indeterminancy built in. Let us now explore how Eckhart articulates this understanding of vision and hearing in his Sermon 12. Eckhart begins Sermon 12 by immediately giving primacy to the auditory. The scripture pericope from which the Meister develops this sermon is, as previously mentioned, Qui audit me non confundetur. In keeping with his usual practice, Eckhart adds his own particular twist to this scripture by defining confundetur as ashamed, rather than confused. There are many intriguing reasons why Eckhart may have chosen this particular translation, primary among them perhaps a growing sense that his own teaching was suspect and he wanted to remind his listeners they need not be ashamed of listening to what he had to say.9 But leaving that aside, Eckhart does begin by placing ‘hearing’ in the forefront. He begins the sermon stating: I shall speak first of all to the point that eternal Wisdom says: ‘Who hears me is not ashamed’. Whoever shall hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father must be within, must be at home, and must be one. Then he can hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father. (McGinn, 1986, p. 267)


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

So right at the start Eckhart solidifies the relationship between hearing, inwardness and unity or oneness. And in order for this to be achieved one must practice detachment from the three things Eckhart repeatedly names as detrimental to unity with the divine. These three are ‘corporality’, ‘multiplicity’ and temporality’. All of these, due to their basic external nature as realities that pull the human subject outward, the Meister declares intrude on one’s ability to ‘hear’ divine wisdom (ibid.). The remedy for our spiritual hearing deficit then, Eckhart suggests, is detachment or abandonment of self. Eckhart here quotes the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says: ‘No one hears my words nor my teaching unless he has forsaken himself ’ (see Lk. 14.26). And as the Meister suggested in his Christmas cycle Sermon 4, the detachment and abandonment necessary is not primarily achieved by bodily asceticism, but rather through the act of love. This loving then has a particular incarnational quality to it, which Eckhart picks up again in Sermon 12, reminding his listeners that they must love all men as themselves, which requires ‘loving all men in one man, and that man is God and man’ (McGinn, 1986, p.  268). If one achieves this abandonment then he or she becomes what they hear: ‘In the eternal Word, that which hears is the same as that which is heard’ (ibid., p. 267). What they are ‘hearing’ according to Eckhart is the presence of the Word already within them, the ‘something uncreated in the soul’ which the Meister terms the vünkelin or spark of the soul. In this sermon he describes it as follows: Similarly I have often said that there is something in the soul that is so closely related to God that it is one [with him] and not just united. It is one and has nothing in common with anything, nor does anything created have anything at all in common with it. Everything created is nothing. But this is far distant from and foreign to all createdness. If a person were completely like this, he would be completely uncreated and uncreateable. (ibid., 269)

Eckhart introduces here the grunt or ground of the soul. It is, simply put, the presence of the uncreated existing within the created being: like darkness and light interpenetrating, or the gruntlôs-grunt or groundless-ground. The Dominican then, later in the sermon and more briefly, introduces vision stating: If my eye is to see color, it must be free of all color. If I see blue or white, the sight of my eye which sees the color, this very thing that does the seeing, is the same as what is seen by the eye. The eye in which I see God is the same eye in which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye and one seeing, one knowing and one loving. (ibid., p. 270)

So, as with hearing, where the hearer becomes what is heard, or the Word, concerning vision the eye of the seer must also become God’s eye. Eckhart uses both audition and vision to symbolize the type of ‘oneness’ he prescribes, which he understands to be ‘not just united’ as ‘united’ still implies the existence of ‘two-ness’. This place of oneness then is the uncreated something in the soul and is accessible by the ordinary operations of seeing and hearing once detached from that which disturbs interiority.

The Pathless Path of Prayer


As mentioned above, the senses of hearing and seeing indicate two different orientations towards the world: vision is primarily an active approach to the world while hearing is primarily passive. The first depends on continuity and immediacy, the second on discontinuity and delay. What I suggest here then, is that Eckhart, as with Merleau-Ponty’s concept of double-belongingness, is purposely using this notion of double-orientation as a way to indicate how attention to seeing and hearing used simultaneously can lead one into an in-between space of ‘continuity-discontinuity’; a place of tension and indeterminancy that has the potential to lead to the experience of the ‘uncreated-created’ or one’s own fundamental existential reality as a participant in incarnatio continua. I believe one way of interpreting what Eckhart is doing in this sermon, is trying to inculcate particular somatic modes of attention in his listeners that might help them reach into what contemporary cultural phenomenologists have called the ‘Leib’, or the ‘Lived Body’. Eckhart offers an understanding of the body that does ‘collapse dualities between mind and body, subject and object’ as well as human and divine. The Meister is posing the kind of body necessary in order for his listeners to come into relationship with the kind of deity Christians posit: the Word become flesh. What I want to highlight here also is how Eckhart, in his own way, brings into relationship an ecstatic notion of body as vision moves outward, and a recessive notion of body as hearing draws inward. Through basic somatic modes Eckhart encourages his listeners to experience the Lived Body as a path of access to the divine. For human beings living after the Incarnation of Christ we now have access to both the created and uncreated within us, but the two never will reach coincidence; there will always be fission rather than fusion, an écart or incessant escaping which creates an experience of indeterminancy. This resulting indeterminancy then opens out as an opportunity for the human subject to enter into an experience of the oneness that is ‘not just united’. Throughout much of Meister Eckhart’s writing and sermons he makes creative attempts to capture, through paradoxical language, the basic human experience of indeterminancy that is central to his understanding of incarnatio continua. From his coining of the term ‘potential receptivity’ through his play with darkness and light, from his ‘caught-freedom’ to the ‘pathless path’, Eckhart strives to bring to expression the central human experience that has the power to open the human subject to divine experience and union. But does the Meister offer a system or method for prayer and meditation? My firm answer, in keeping true to Eckhart, would be both yes and no. Eckhart believed ‘ways’ too often got in the way of the human experience of the divine and such ‘ways’ could too easily become replacements, or attachments, that would eventually block any path of access to God. But he does recognize that on the human plane of existence, we need ways and this, for him, is fine as long as we let go of the way as soon as we find it. What Eckhart does give us, if not a method of meditation, is a venue for meditation, that of the Lived Body. What he attempts to teach his listeners, specifically in Sermon 12, is how to recognize and pay attention to the kind of body that will bring one into relationship with the kind of deity that Christianity posits: a God made flesh. What Eckhart gives us is a ‘pathless path’ to prayer which can alone honour the Christian’s participation in the ongoing, and ever-present, process of homnification-deification.


Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices of ‘Representing’ Christ in Prayer Mary Frohlich

Catholic Theological Union of Chicago

For the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, ‘meditation’ is a limited term referring only to active discursive practices; ‘prayer’ is the term by which she refers to the entire range of practices and experiences oriented towards union with God. In this chapter, Mary Frohlich provides a thorough account of Teresa’s methods of meditative prayer. The tension between method and no-method – or ‘active’ and ‘passive’ modes of prayer – is as strong in her writings as in those of Meister Eckhart, though she is also clearly concerned with devising concrete methods. She employs a number of what we would now call meditation objects, but eventually the main object of her prayer is the combination of divinity and humanity in the figure of Christ. From the beginning, ‘discursive’ and ‘imaginative’ forms of prayer play only a minor role in her system, though they may pave the way for the dynamic relation to Christ involved in ‘affective’ prayer. The next stage is ‘recollective’ prayer, in which sensory impressions and thoughts are actively withdrawn in order to cultivate faith in God’s (or Christ’s) loving presence. Beyond this, an even higher form of prayer involves ‘union’ with God (or Christ), but this is considered a ‘passive’ form of prayer, beyond human effort, depending on God’s grace. Teresa’s later writings develop further her ideas about these more advanced prayer practices. There also emerges a stronger concern with external action than with interior prayer, and a greater suspicion of inner states of mind, such as visions, raptures or ecstasies. The ideal is a life ‘representing’ Christ through ‘good works’ and self-giving love.

Background to Teresa’s teaching on prayer Meditation, prayer and other terms for interior practice As is the case for many Christian traditions, Teresa’s terminology differs from the modern notion of a ‘self-administered attention-based technique for inner transformation’. For


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her, ‘meditation’ (meditación) is a specific and limited form of interior practice that she discusses only a few times in her writings. This is her most precise definition:1 By meditation I mean much discursive reflection with the intellect [discurrir con el entendimiento] in the following way: we begin to think about the favour God granted us in giving us His only Son, and we do not stop there, but go on to the mysteries of His whole glorious life; or we begin to think about the prayer in the garden, but the intellect doesn’t stop until He is on the cross; or we take a phase of the Passion like, let us say, the arrest, and we proceed with this mystery considering in detail the things there are to think of and feel about the betrayal of Judas, the flight of the apostles, and all the rest; this kind of reflection is an admirable and very meritorious prayer. (Castillo Interior 6.7.10)

By saying that meditation is ‘discursive’, Teresa limits it to active, linear, intellectual reflection on the teachings and ‘mysteries’2 of her religious faith. Although she recommends it as a necessary practice for beginners and even at times for the more advanced, she strongly emphasizes that it is superficial in relation to the forms of prayer that she is most interested in teaching. Teresa’s term for the entire range of spiritual practices is ‘prayer’ (oración). Prayer may be vocal, mental or contemplative; discursive, imagistic or with all faculties ‘suspended’; petitionary, laudatory, devotional or mystical, to name only a few of the elements that she distinguishes. Prayer for Teresa is also a state of being, for she frequently uses the phrase ‘in prayer’ (en oración) to refer to a state within which various experiences occur. The remainder of this chapter will examine in detail what she teaches about the state and practice of prayer.

Christocentricity as core method One of Teresa’s shorter definitions of prayer is to call it simply ‘an exercise of love’ (Vida 7.12). In another place she writes: ‘For mental prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us’ (Vida 8.5). Nothing that Teresa says about prayer can be understood correctly without keeping in mind that for her the core practice is always faith in the personal and saving presence of Jesus Christ. Prayer for her is never simply a technique that can be expected to yield predictable results. Rather, it is the cultivation of a relationship in which the power and grace of the other (Christ) is infinitely beyond human understanding or control. For that reason, it always remains possible that someone who practises prayer assiduously for many years may appear to experience much less of this freely given grace than someone else who has practised very little. There are at least two reasons why this may be so: first, because Christ is free to choose whom he will and is not restricted by human ‘worthiness’; second, because our own evaluation of Christ’s gifts to us may be faulty, especially since many have a tendency to place too much emphasis on having certain types of special experiences and too little on simply living a life that imitates that of Christ. As we will see, as Teresa matures, her insight into the second aspect will also deepen.

Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices


Late mediaeval currents of spirituality affecting Teresa Before Teresa became a creative teacher of prayer, she was a student of the various approaches to prayer taught in her milieu. During the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Spain was swept by a series of spiritual reform movements. One fruit of these movements was the widespread availability of a book that was very important for Teresa, the Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolph the Carthusian (1300–77). The book leads the reader on a journey populated with vivid, detailed tableaus of specific incidents from Jesus’ life, providing many ‘stage directions’ for entry into the scenes but also inviting the reader to imaginative participation and emotional identification with Christ.3 Ludolph’s Vita did not teach mystical prayer; its focus was more practical, on encouraging practices designed to nurture the emotions and behaviours appropriate for one who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.4 Around 1520, however, several texts that gave explicit attention to the depths of contemplative prayer began to emerge. Born in 1515, Teresa entered adulthood just at the time that these were having their greatest impact. First, when she was just 23, her Uncle Pedro Sánchez de Cepeda gave her Francisco de Osuna’s Tercer Abcedario Espiritual; she later wrote that this provided her first in-depth introduction to the practice of interior prayer (Vida 4.7). Later on, when her prayer experience had progressed to the point of ‘suspensions’,5 Bernardino de Laredo’s Subida del Monte Sion helped her to understand what was going on.6 Finally, an analysis of Teresa’s writings by Tomas de la Cruz indicates that she had also deeply imbibed Bernabé de la Palma’s Via Spiritus.7 All these texts teach a method of prayer that came to be called ‘recollection’ (recogimiento). This method involves a stripping away of all sensations, images and thoughts so as to rest in God alone. Here is an example from Osuna: The more your heart is emptied of creation, the better prepared it is for [God]. So long as a glass is held in trembling hand, it cannot be filled to the brim without spilling.  .  .  . The wise man simply tells us to guard the heart with all vigilance, allowing no thoughts at all to enter, for as I have explained, they hinder the good life, which is God, from issuing forth from its source in man’s heart.8

The method of recollection was probably rooted in traditions taught for several generations within Franciscan circles.9 Orthodox authors, including Osuna, Laredo and Palma, did not teach it as a free-standing practice but rather presented it as the climax of a repertoire of practices, which included discursive pondering of the truths of faith, imaginative reflection on the life of Jesus and affective interaction with the person of Christ. By reading their writings, Teresa imbibed this holistic contemplative approach to prayer.

Meanings of ‘representation’ in Teresa’s vocabulary Teresa uses variations of the verb representar fairly frequently, especially in the Vida. In a few cases it simply refers to someone being sent in the place of another, with the implication that the ‘representative’ is subordinate to the one who sends. More often

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she uses it in a cognitive context, in such phrases as ‘I strove to represent Christ within me’ (Vida 9.4), ‘the devil also represented [bad thoughts] to St. Jerome’ (11.10), or ‘[the locutions] represent the truth to [the soul]’ (26.2). In such sentences representar has the meaning of ‘to make mentally present’, with the implication that some kind of knowledge (whether true or false) then becomes possible. Among those identified as potential agents of this kind of ‘representation’ are oneself, the imagination, the memory, the intellect, God, Christ and the devil. In some cases a person actively chooses to represent to him/herself through the interior faculties; in other cases these faculties seem to act on their own, or an external agent (God or the devil) stimulates them to act.10 Teresa would not have had direct familiarity with the philosophical theories of cognition of her time, but she was no doubt indirectly affected by them through her reading and her conversations with educated men. In a typical cognitive theory of the time, perceptions enter through the senses and are stored in the memory as ‘figures’; the imagination can then draw them forth for the intellect to employ in the production of knowledge.11 It is this latter process for which Teresa seems to employ the word representar. Unlike the philosophers, she does not develop a systematic theory of the process, but rather uses the term descriptively for any process in which mental contents are produced on the way to knowledge. What is important to her is not the details of the process so much as its spiritual fruits, that is, whether or not the knowing event promotes the deepening of one’s personal union with God.

Teresa’s teaching on prayer in the Libro de la Vida Active prayer practices described in Vida 7–13 It is in chapters  7–13 of her Libro de la Vida that Teresa gives her most detailed account of active prayer methods. Chapters 7–10 deal with her own early discoveries in regard to prayer, including some serious mistakes that she made. Chapters 11–13 discuss the ‘first water’, the first of four stages of prayer that she compares to different ways of obtaining water for a garden. The ‘four waters’ express her understanding of the development of the spiritual life at that time. The active prayer practices that she describes in these chapters can be categorized under four headings: discursive prayer, imaginative prayer, affective prayer and recollective prayer. In many cases these are not exclusive of one another, as a given form of prayer practice may combine two, three or all four of these elements.

Discursive prayer Discursive prayer, which Teresa sometimes calls ‘meditation’, involves actively using the intellect to think about the core doctrines of one’s faith, following a logical path from one insight to the next. In 13.12 she describes this practice: Let us begin to think about an episode of the Passion, let’s say of when our lord was bound to the pillar. The intellect goes in search of reasons for better understanding

Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices


the great sorrows and pain His Majesty suffered in that solitude and many other things that the intellect, if it works hard, can herein deduce. . . . This is the method of prayer with which all must begin, continue, and finish; and it is a very excellent and safe path until the Lord leads one to other supernatural things.

Discursive prayer was probably the method most frequently taught in Teresa’s milieu. The ecclesial hierarchy of the time generally frowned on the laity (especially women) practising any form of prayer other than discursive. Teresa’s recommendation of this method of prayer comes in that context. It may be sincere, but it is clearly lukewarm; what she really wants to say is that a person serious about prayer should not get stuck at this level.

Imaginative prayer Another typical method of prayer taught in Teresa’s milieu was active use of the imagination to enter into the events of Christ’s life and of the liturgical year. It seems that this approach was cautiously permitted for women and other laity who found discursive prayer too taxing. She writes: This is the method of prayer [modo de oración] I then used: since I could not reflect discursively with the intellect, I strove to picture Christ within me [representar a Cristo dentro de mí], and it did me greater good – in my opinion – to picture him in those scenes where I saw Him more alone. . . . The scene of His prayer in the garden, especially, was a comfort to me; I strove to be his companion there. (9.4)

In the following paragraphs Teresa notes that this method opens one to many distractions, and that for this reason she found it helpful to use a book or to pay attention to ‘fields, water, or flowers’ in order to stay focused (9.5). She also avers that she found even this imaginative method very difficult, as she had ‘little ability to represent things with my intellect’ or to ‘picture [Christ] within myself ’ (9.6). One of Teresa’s reasons for emphasizing the weakness of her imagination, no doubt, is that before long she will be recounting her visions, some of which she describes as including a vivid visual component. She wants to inform the reader that she was incapable of producing such interior images on her own. Although less tiring for her than discursive prayer, imaginative prayer is still not where Teresa feels most comfortable.

Affective prayer Teresa becomes more enthusiastic when she begins writing about how discursive or imaginative prayer can open up the springs of feeling and the sense of personal presence with God. She writes: In thinking about the glory we hope for, the love the Lord bore us, and His resurrection, we are moved to a joy that is neither entirely spiritual nor entirely of the senses. . . . In this state [the soul] can make many acts to awaken love, many


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resolutions to render God much service, and other acts in order to make the virtues grow . . . The soul can place itself in the presence of Christ and grow accustomed to being inflamed with love for His sacred humanity. It can keep Him ever present and speak with Him. . . . (12.1,2)

Teresa’s first manual of prayer, Osuna’s Tercer Abcedario Espiritual, introduced her into a long Christian tradition that regarded affects as the royal path to both deepened prayer and personal transformation. It is clear that for Teresa, the real value of both discursive and imaginative forms of active prayer is their potential to open one up to a warmly felt, dynamic sense of relationship with Christ. Once this is awakened, the comparatively wooden character of logical thinking or of purposeful imagining drops away, and prayer becomes a lively, heart-to-heart conversation.

Recollective prayer As noted above, Teresa grew to adulthood in an era when the method of recollection (recogimiento) was being widely taught. This method of prayer aimed to guide people towards a deep, quiet, interior communion with God. The approach used was removal of attention from the objects of the senses and from the ordinary objects of the mind (thoughts, images, etc.), while cultivating a deep attitude of faith in God’s loving presence. Thus, recollection begins with the active work of quieting oneself and systematically shifting attention inward, but it is fulfilled in a receptive state of quietness in which the soul basks joyfully in God’s outpouring love. In the early chapters of the Vida Teresa primarily uses the term in an active sense, as for example in this text: Beginners in prayer, we can say, are those who draw water from the well. This involves a lot of work on their own part, as I have said. They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their senses. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, this recollection requires much effort. (11.9)

The movement from the fully active ‘first water’ of prayer (drawing water from the well) to the transitional ‘second water’ (turning a water wheel so abundant water flows through aqueducts) is marked by occasional experiences of the passive sense of recollection, which Teresa here calls ‘the prayer of quiet’ (oración de quietud). She writes: This quietude and recollection is something that is clearly felt through the satisfaction and peace bestowed on the soul, along with great contentment and calm and a very gentle delight in the faculties . . . It dares not move or stir, for it seems that good will slip through its hands – nor would it even want to breathe sometimes. The poor little thing doesn’t understand that since by its own efforts it can do nothing to draw that good to itself, so much less will it be able to keep it for longer than the Lord desires. (15.1)

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In the Vida the prayer of quiet is transitional, since it usually still depends on a good deal of preparatory activity of quieting and focusing through the use of the faculties. In fact, it can supervene in the midst of any of the other active forms of prayer. As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the various approaches to prayer that are described here are not strictly separate from one another. More often than not one overlaps into another, as in this example: Now returning to what I was saying about Christ bound at the pillar; it is good to reflect awhile and think about the pains He suffered there, and why, and who he is, and the love with which He suffered them. But one should not always weary oneself in seeking these reflections but just remain there in His presence with the intellect quiet. And if we are able we should occupy ourselves in looking at Christ who is looking at us, and we should speak, and petition, and humble ourselves, and delight in the Lord’s presence, and remember that we are unworthy of being there. (13.22)

She begins by imagining Christ at the pillar, proceeds with some discursive reflection, enters into a few moments of quiet recollection and ends with affective conversation. This is a good description of Teresian prayer in its early, active phases.

Higher prayer in the Vida As Teresa moves into her discussion of the third water (water flowing from a stream) and the fourth water (an abundant rain), she abruptly stops using the language of ‘recollection’. From now on, the interior experience of prayer is all about ‘union’. The prayer of quiet in the second water, as noted above, is a transitional stage. Teresa calls it ‘a little spark of the Lord’s true love which he begins to kindle in the soul’, and adds, ‘For anyone who has experience, it is impossible not to understand soon that this little spark cannot be acquired’ (15.4). In this state of quiet God holds the will ‘united’ (unida) with him, even though the intellect and memory may still run about noisily (15.1). In the Vida, the difference between ‘recollection’ and ‘union’ seems to be that recollection is partly attainable by our own efforts to silence and focus our attention. Union, on the other hand, is fundamentally an act of God. At this stage in the development of her understanding of prayer, Teresa sees union as a state in which normal human functioning (i.e. seeing, thinking, physical activity, etc.) is radically suspended. As Edward Howells puts it: ‘Suspension occurs when the shock of receiving irresistible grace removes the soul from its centre of agency, at the same time as “immersing” it in God in the interior’.12 The culminating fourth water, then, differs from the other three in that the gardener no longer does any work at all. There is no possible ‘method’ for this level of prayer; one is simply surrendered to God. Teresa explains: In this fourth water the soul isn’t in possession of its senses, but it rejoices without understanding what it is rejoicing in . . . All the senses are occupied in this joy in such a way that none is free to be taken up with any other exterior or interior


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thing. . . . And I say that if this prayer is the union of all the faculties, the soul is unable to communicate its joy even though it may desire to do so – I mean while being in the prayer. And if it were able then this wouldn’t be union. (18.1)

However, as she concludes her discussion of the fourth water, Teresa feels compelled to make a clarification. She writes of how she had made the mistake of thinking that the admonition to set aside all corporal and mental images meant that, if she wanted to arrive at the highest prayer, she must also set aside everything referring to the humanity of Christ.13 This occurred because she was learning the practice from books, rather than from an experienced teacher. She explains: I had no master and was reading these books in which I thought I was gradually coming to understand something .  .  . As a result, when I began to experience something of supernatural prayer, I mean of the prayer of quiet, I strove to turn aside from everything corporeal, although I did not dare lift up the soul . . . . Since I felt [some] benefit and consolation, there was no one who could have made me return to the humanity of Christ; as a matter of fact, I thought the humanity was an impediment. . . . At no time do I recall this opinion I had without feeling pain; it seems to me I became a dreadful traitor – although in ignorance. (22.3)

She goes on to say that she thinks this error arose from two closely related causes: first, a lack of humility, and second, a failure to acknowledge that we are embodied persons who ordinarily require bodily and human forms of support. Realizing that it is through the humanity of Christ that God unites our humanity to Himself, Teresa affirms that it would be foolish to shun the source of grace. In the Vida, however, Teresa is not able to spell out very clearly how union with the humanity of Christ involves our own humanity. At this stage she depicts union as suppressing and even paralyzing all ordinary human functioning. The Vida concludes with Teresa recounting several visions in which she was granted a profound mutuality with Christ. She uses the image of mutually reflecting mirrors to explain this revelation: Once while I was reciting with all the Sisters the hours of the Divine Office, my soul suddenly became recollected; and it seemed to me to be like a brightly polished mirror, without any part on the back or sides or top or bottom that wasn’t totally clear. In its centre Christ, our Lord, was shown to me, in the way I usually see Him. It seemed to me I saw Him clearly in every part of my soul, as though in a mirror. And this mirror also – I don’t know how to explain it – was completely engraved upon the Lord Himself by means of a very loving communication I wouldn’t know how to describe. (40.5)

She then adds, Once while in prayer I was shown quickly, without my seeing any form – but it was a totally clear representation – how all things are seen in God and how He holds

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them all in Himself. How to put this in writing I don’t know. But it was deeply impressed upon my soul. . . . (40.9)

At this point, then, ‘representation’ is an event that occurs without any method. She cannot explain it, but the knowledge she receives through it is more deeply inscribed in her than any other.

Teresa’s teaching on prayer in the Castillo Interior Subtleties in the transition between active and passive prayer Teresa wrote Castillo Interior, o Las Moradas 12 years after she had completed the Vida. Instead of four stages of spiritual development, she now identifies seven. However, it does not seem that this increase in identified stages is as significant as it might appear, since she barely develops the first three. The title image for the text is that of the human soul as a castle, at whose centre God dwells as Lord. Each stage of spiritual development is depicted as a set of dwelling places (moradas), each closer to the centre and to God (1.1.3, 1.2.8). The Christian life of prayer is all about becoming free to enter and dwell with God in all the rooms of the castle, which is oneself but even more fundamentally is the dwelling place of God. The door of entry to the castle, Teresa writes, is ‘prayer and reflection’ (oración y consideración) (1.1.7). The first three sets of dwelling places correspond more or less to the ‘first water’ stage of the Vida. However, in this case she offers very little description of the actual practice of prayer during these stages. Early on, she explicitly states why, indicating that while the sisters hear a lot about prayer, ‘only what we ourselves can do in prayer is explained to us; little is explained about what the Lord does in a soul, I mean about the supernatural’ (I.2.7). This book, then, will be a much more fine-tuned exploration of the higher states of prayer, in which the primary agent is God. The serious discussion of prayer begins in the fourth dwelling places, which correspond approximately to the Vida’s ‘second water’. Since our focus in this chapter is on prayer as an active practice, I have selected four aspects of her teaching for special review: first, the essential distinctions she makes between contemplative experience as ‘acquired’ and as ‘infused’;14 second, her discussion of what one can do to build the ‘cocoon’ for union with God; third, her emphasis on union in action being even more important than union in prayer and fourth, her reclamation of a subtle, integrated form of meditation in the higher stages of prayer.

Essential distinctions between ‘acquired’ and ‘infused’ prayer Like the second water in the Vida, the fourth dwelling places are a transitional stage between the ordinary, more active forms of prayer and the higher, more grace-driven forms of prayer. This time, however, Teresa is concerned to make a new distinction


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within this transition. She begins by distinguishing two different types of experiences in prayer: [C]oncerning the difference in prayer between consolations [contentos] and spiritual delights [gustos], the term ‘consolations,’ I think, can be given to those experiences we ourselves acquire through our own meditation and petitions to the Lord . . . [Whereas] The spiritual delights begin in God, but human nature feels and enjoys them as much as it does those I mentioned – and much more. (4.1.4)

She then returns to the comparison of methods of obtaining water that she had developed in the Vida. This time she describes the more active form of prayer as like a carefully constructed set of aqueducts that bring water from far away with considerable effort, while the prayer of spiritual delight is like a spring that bubbles up abundantly ‘from its own source which is God’ (4.2.4). As she continues to develop this distinction, she makes an even more subtle distinction between the prayer that occurs right on the borderline between our action and God’s action, which she now calls the ‘prayer of recollection’ (oración de recogimiento) and the ‘prayer of quiet’ which (differently from in the Vida) refers to the first experiences of prayer fully moved by God. Here is her discussion of the prayer of recollection: Don’t think this recollection is acquired by the intellect striving to think about God within itself, or by the imagination imagining Him within itself . . . [W]hat I’m speaking of comes in a different way . . . I don’t know in what way or how they heard their shepherd’s whistle. It wasn’t through the ears, because nothing is heard. But one noticeably senses a gentle drawing inward [un encogimiento suave a lo interior], as anyone who goes through this will observe, for I don’t know how to make it clearer. It seems to me I have read where it was compared to a hedgehog curling up or a turtle drawing into a shell [retiran hacia sí] . . . But these creatures draw inward [se entran] whenever they want. In the case of this recollection, it doesn’t come when we want it but when God wants to grant us the favour. (4.3.3)

Here the prayer of recollection is defined as being ‘drawn inward’ by the power of grace. The prayer of quiet, on the other hand, is characterized by an interior expansion: It seems that since that heavenly water begins to rise from this spring I’m mentioning that is deep within us, it swells and expands our whole interior being [se va dilatando y ensanchando de todo nuestro interior], producing ineffable blessings; nor does the soul even understand what is given to it there. It perceives a fragrance, let us say for now as though there were in that interior depth a brazier giving off sweet-smelling perfumes. No light is seen, nor is the place seen where the brazier is; but the warmth and the fragrant fumes spread through the entire soul and even often enough, as I have said, the body shares in them.  .  .  . This

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spiritual delight is not something that can be imagined, because however diligent our efforts we cannot acquire it. (4.2.6)

In short, the ‘prayer of recollection’, in Teresa’s imagery, is a kind of shrinking down (encogimiento) or emptying out of ordinary consciousness that begins actively but concludes in a grace-enhanced sinking inward. The ‘prayer of quiet’, on the other hand, is a swelling and expanding (dilatando y ensanchando) of one’s deepest interior being, arising from the ‘spring’ of God.

What one can do to build the ‘cocoon’ for union with God When Teresa moves on to the fifth dwelling places, loosely corresponding to the third water of the Vida, she again leaves behind the language of recollection in favour of that of union. This is how she describes the experience of prayer in union: There is no need here to use any technique to suspend the mind [aqui no es menester con artificio suspender el pensamiento] since all the faculties are asleep [dormidas] in this state – and truly asleep – to the things of the world and to ourselves. As a matter of fact, during the time that the union lasts the soul is left as though without its senses, for it has no power to think even if it wants to. (5.1.4)

For our purposes, what is most interesting in Teresa’s discussion of the fifth dwelling places is the metaphor she develops of a silkworm which builds its own cocoon (capuchillo) in which to ‘die’ and be transformed. First she describes the active life required of the silkworm so that it can grow into readiness to build its cocoon. The little worm ‘grows’ through ‘the general help given to us all by God and through the remedies left by Him to His Church, by going to confession, reading good books, and hearing sermons, which are the remedies that a soul, dead in its carelessness and sins and placed in the midst of occasions, can make use of ’ (5.2.3). Once the worm is grown, it begins to spin the silk and build the house wherein it will die. I would like to point out here that this house is Christ . . . [S]ee here, daughters, what we can do through the help of God: His Majesty Himself, as He does in this prayer of union, becomes the dwelling place we build for ourselves . . . Not that we can take God away or build Him up, but we can take away from ourselves and build up, as do these little silkworms. For we will not have finished doing all that we can in this work when, to the little we do, which is nothing, God will unite Himself, with His greatness, and give it such high value that the Lord Himself will become the reward of this work. (5.2.4–5)

It is noteworthy to observe Teresa beginning here to point towards a greater integration between human action and divine action than she had suggested in the Vida. In the following paragraph she spells out some of the human actions that prepare the cocoon, exhorting the sisters to ‘be quick to do this work and weave this little cocoon by


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getting rid of our self-love and self-will, our attachments to any earthly things, and by performing deeds of penance, prayer, mortification, obedience, and of all the other things you know’ (5.2.6). The actions that she describes in this text are those associated with the first three dwelling places; thus she indicates that these active practices are not to be abandoned, even though one has begun to experience the prayer of union in which God is the primary agent. Even more significant, however, is the theological principle that enables her to see her way towards a more integrated view than she had been able to express in the Vida.15 That principle is Christ, whom she identifies as the ‘dwelling place’ into which the silkworm goes to die and be transformed. At this stage her metaphor remains somewhat confused, as she is not able to fully explain how human activity can build this dwelling place that is also divine. What is important, however, is that she affirms that this is the case. God ‘unites himself ’, she says, to our human labour, so that they ‘become one’.

Union in action is even more important than union in prayer On this basis she goes on to make yet another distinction, between the ‘delightful union’ that she has been describing and the ‘true union’, which fundamentally consists in being united with God’s will in all things. In other words, union in action, particularly in actions of love of neighbour, is more authentic than union that is only an ‘experience’. Again, Christ is the principle of this union; she writes, ‘The Lord doesn’t have to grant us great delights for this union; sufficient is what He has given us in His Son, who would teach us the way’ (5.3.7). As is evident from the rest of the book, Teresa is by no means eschewing the value of the interior experience of union; rather, she is once again clarifying that the goal of Christian spiritual life is a holistic union with Christ, not the attainment of a special state of consciousness. Imitation of Christ’s self-giving love is a more sure sign of ‘union’ than is having visions, raptures or ecstasies.

Reclaiming a subtle, integrated form of meditation Nonetheless, much of Teresa’s discussion of the sixth dwelling places – one third of the Castillo Interior – is spent describing the many types of experiences (visions, raptures, locutions, etc.) that can occur as a person approaches the ‘spiritual marriage’, which is Teresa’s metaphor for the fulfilment of union with God. With our focus on active practices of prayer, however, the most relevant section of her presentation of the sixth dwelling places is her discussion of the ongoing necessity of, in her words, ‘dwelling on the mysteries’ of the life of Christ. She begins this discussion by reviewing what she had said on the subject in the Vida, again affirming that ‘it is necessary not to withdraw through one’s own efforts from all our good and help, which is the most sacred humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (6.7.6). She then begins to consider why it is that people who are in this transition into the fullness of union with God may become confused on this point. One reason, she proposes, is that once they have ‘found’ God and know the experience of resting in his love (fifth dwelling places), they find it tiresome to go back to the kind of discursive

Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices


seeking for God that they had been taught in the early stages of prayer. Thus, it may be true that they can no longer ‘meditate’ on the life of Christ in the discursive sense of that term. She then makes another of her key distinctions: You already know that discursive thinking with the intellect [discurrir con el entendimiento] is one thing and representing truths to the intellect by means of the memory [representa la memoria al entendimiento verdades] is another . . . This [discursive] prayer is the kind that those whom God has brought to supernatural things and to perfect contemplation are right in saying they cannot practice . . . But I say that a person will not be right if he says he does not dwell on these mysteries or often have them in mind [no se detiene en estes misterios y los trae presentes muchas veces] .  .  . Nor is it possible for the soul to forget that it has received so much from God, so many precious signs of love, for these are living sparks that will enkindle it more in its love for our Lord. But I say this person doesn’t understand himself, because the soul understands these mysteries in a more perfect manner. The intellect represents them in such a way, and they are so stamped on the memory, that the mere sight of the Lord fallen to the ground in the garden with that frightful sweat is enough to last the intellect not only an hour but many days, while it looks with a simple gaze [con una sencilla vista] at who He is. . . . (6.7.10–11)

In this passage Teresa describes a more subtle kind of meditation that is appropriate to those advanced in prayer: they are to dwell with a simple, uncomplicated gaze on an event of Christ’s life, allowing it to function as a ‘spark’ that enkindles love. She is insistent that ‘doing so will not impede the most sublime prayer’ (6.7.12), and that one should never think that one has completely outgrown the need for this type of practice.

The fulfilment of prayer Nonetheless, in the same discussion, Teresa notes that persons in the culminating seventh dwelling place ‘rarely, or hardly ever, need to make this effort . . . such a person walks continually in an admirable way with Christ, our Lord, in whom the divine and the human are joined and who is always that person’s companion’ (6.7.9). Here is her description of the vision that inaugurated her ‘spiritual marriage’: [T]he Lord represented Himself to her, just after she had received Communion, in the form of shining splendour, beauty, and majesty, as He was after His resurrection . . . in the interior of her soul [en lo interior de su alma], where He represented Himself to her, she had not seen other visions except the former one. You must understand that there is the greatest difference between all the previous visions and those of this dwelling place. (7.2.1)

In this culminating stage, ‘representation’ is an act of God. She observes that even so, it must somehow ‘take place by means of the senses and faculties’, yet the experience is so


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

interior and so different from all that has happened before that it cannot be compared. At last ‘the soul, I mean the spirit, is made one with God’ (7.2.3). After providing considerable detail on the character of this new level of spiritual experience, Teresa spends the final pages of her book affirming once again that the point of this journey is not ‘experiences’. She summarizes, ‘This is the reason for prayer, my daughters, the purpose of this spiritual marriage: the birth always of good works, good works’ (7.4.6). She affirms that despite the utter calm that the soul now feels at its centre ‘the faculties, senses, and all the corporeal will not be idle, (for) the soul wages more war from the centre than it did when it was outside suffering with them’ (7.4.10). Finally she returns to one of her favourite biblical images, that of Martha and Mary (Lk. 10.38–42), to insist that in the person of prayer both activity and contemplation must be fully developed.

Discussion: The evolving sense of ‘representation’ Teresa’s teaching about prayer does not change in major ways during the 12  years between the Vida and the Castillo Interior, but it does gain considerably in clarity, subtlety and theological sophistication. The most significant shift during these years seems to be Teresa’s growing ability to understand how a life of union with Christ integrates prayer and action, rather than being primarily a matter of passive prayer. Tracing her use of the term representar and its cognates is one way to observe this developing insight. In the Vida Teresa uses the term in her discussion of both the earliest and the latest stages of the life of prayer. In the early stages it primarily has an active sense, as in 9.4: ‘I strove to represent Christ within me’. Kavanaugh and Rodriguez translate representar as ‘picture’ here instead of ‘represent’, thus emphasizing a strong visual and objectifying dimension to this kind of meditation. By the end of the Vida representation has become entirely passive, as in 40.9: ‘I was shown quickly, without my seeing any form – but it was a totally clear representation – how all things are seen in God and how He holds them all in Himself.’ Besides being passive, representation here is formless and interior (rather than objectified), for she says that it is ‘deeply impressed on my soul’. Yet the theological insight she gains from this vision remains rudimentary. Basically, what she can articulate is the awareness that the living God dwells in all things, most especially the human soul, and likewise all things dwell in God. She does not make further connections between this and the teachings of her faith. Moreover, receiving this kind of ‘representation’ at this point seems to put all ordinary human activity on hold. God alone acts; the human being is almost annihilated by the glory of the divine act. For Teresa at the time of the Vida, this is the culminating goal of the Christian life of prayer. In the Castillo Interior, Teresa does not allude to the active sense of representation until the seventh chapter of the sixth dwelling places, where she is making clarifications about what distinguishes her from those mystics who practice formless, entirely passive prayer. It is at this point that she acknowledges that the active sense of representation does not drop out entirely at the higher stages, but instead becomes more subtle. She

Teresa of Avila’s Evolving Practices


writes that the mysteries of faith are now ‘stamped on the memory’ so that the intellect ‘looks with a simple gaze at who He is . . .’ (6.7.10–11). It seems that this subtle form of active representation reduces its objectifying quality to a minimum, so that it becomes a simple and stable conduit for a devotional gaze on Christ. In her discussion of the seventh dwelling places, Teresa uses representar to describe two visions: one in which ‘through an admirable knowledge the soul understands as a most profound truth that all three Persons [of the Trinity] are one substance and one power and one knowledge and one God alone’ (7.1.6), and a second in which ‘His Majesty desires to show Himself to the soul through an imaginative vision of His most sacred humanity so that the soul will understand and not be ignorant of receiving this sovereign gift’ (7.2.1). In each case, it is God who provides the ‘representation’ which results in her personal and profound new understanding of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, namely, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Although God is clearly the agent of the representation, Teresa is also able to say now that ‘everything that has been said up until now seems to take place by means of the senses and faculties, and this appearance of the humanity of the Lord must also’. This is so because God ‘has desired to be so joined with the creature that, just as those who are married cannot be separated, He doesn’t want to be separated from the soul’ (7.2.3). The unity of the divine and human at this stage is such that divine action can make use of the human ‘senses and faculties’ without being any less divine. Thus we see that by the time Teresa wrote Castillo Interior, she had a far more holistic and integrated understanding of the life of prayer than she had at the time she wrote the Vida. She emphasizes at two key points (chapters 5.3 and 7.4) that union with Christ in action is more important than union with Christ (only) in prayer. In 7.4 – the final full chapter of the book – she affirms: ‘This is the reason for prayer, my daughters, the purpose of this spiritual marriage: the birth always of good works, good works.’ Although she does not use the term representar in this context, it seems fair to say that at this point she understands the ‘representing’ of Christ to be an activity into which her whole being, body and soul has been recruited. Her ‘good works’ are to represent Christ to others so that they, too, can come to knowledge of him.


Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation: Louis Richeome’s Painting in the Mind Judi Loach

Cardiff University

In this chapter, Judi Loach discusses Jesuit methods of visual meditation, as represented in La Peinture Spirituelle by the French father Louis Richeome (1544– 1625). The book is a training manual for novices or retreatants, who are asked not to passively admire its illustrations, but to actively imagine scenes for which it most often provides verbal explanation, not visual representation. Many of these scenes are drawn from Christian scripture or history, and thus well-known to these meditants. By ‘gazing’ on these mental images, entering into the scenes in his own imagination, the reader is to empathize with figures within them. Such active mental engagement was intended to transform the mind, leading the participant to imitate the actions of the martyrs, and of Christ, not primarily by dying for his faith, but by offering up his own life in service of it. This form of meditation displays a strong sense of the instrumental, if not technical, use of mental processes, influenced by postRenaissance models of mind, derived from antique ones. It corresponds with the dominant Aristotelian and Thomist philosophy of its time, which viewed images as a prerequisite for all understanding. The emphasis on active inner imagination rather than passive viewing of external images depends on the rhetorical technique of ekphrasis, which reflected the fundamental role of rhetoric in the Jesuit educational system. The organization of Richeome’s book into seven spaces, enjoining the practitioner to imagine himself moving around within a concrete physical setting, exploits mnemonic techniques that had roots in antique Roman rhetorical practice, as taught in all Jesuit colleges.

Introduction As with other religions, in Christianity meditation is undertaken as a means of deepening spirituality, but it takes many forms. Generally they can all be defined as mental prayer, in that they are always oriented towards God, and indeed principally


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

towards Jesus Christ.1 In contrast with some other religions, notably oriental ones, Christian meditation usually implies the conscious application of the mind, in part due to its dependence upon Scripture, meditation essentially being a rumination upon the divine Word, conceived as spiritual food.2 From the outset the Church Fathers linked meditatio (meditation) with lectio (reading of Scripture) and oratio (prayer), hence the inevitable engagement  – indeed deliberate employment  – of mind, and in the West the Middle Ages witnessed meditation become progressively more intellectual and reflexive. As such, meditation was clearly distinguished from contemplation, a more passive state reached through the effort made in meditation, and where the individual attained an experience of being – sometimes resting – in the presence of God. Such ‘contemplation’ thus corresponded with the early modern sense of conversation, as derived from the literal translation of the word’s Latin root, conversari, to turn towards (an other), in this case enabling the soul to enter into communion with God; the mind was now ‘suspended’ and thus became open to supernatural invasion, the divine taking over the mental faculties, with potential for mystical experience. Meditation was thus a preparatory exercise prerequisite for entering into this higher spiritual state, rather than an end in itself. The mid- to late fourteenth century witnessed the advent of the Devotio Moderna,3 a reform movement within Catholicism that combined an emphasis upon the individual’s interior spirituality and its outworking through service to one’s fellow humans on earth. The leading model for the latter was Christ Himself, and the means for attaining it was imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ,4 since self-sacrificing engagement with the world was conceived as resulting from allowing Christ to indwell the individual, through the communion with Him that would result from this imitation. The Devotio Moderna promoted a devotional reading of Scripture as the means of access to meditation, and thence contemplation; within this context it developed precise methods for meditation, along with schemas of increasing complexity, all involving methodical training so that meditation took on the form of mental exercises  – the individual’s conscious engagement enabling divine illumination of the intellectual faculties – as a preparation for contemplation or other forms of prayer. The fact that, within these circles, such exercises were practised alongside other activities – such as acts of charity – meant that meditation formed part of a process engaging body and soul, senses and mind: the whole person. Imitation of Christ would thus lead to a transformation of the individual, one essentially internal but manifested through his or her daily life in the external world.5 The geographical and temporal context of the form of meditation examined here – early seventeenth-century France  – is one in which the application of rational and critical modes of thought were becoming dominant, to the extent not merely that existing authorities were questioned but even that the individual’s own mind was often seen as a superior authority to any external one. Within this context meditation, as an internal cognitive function, might be expected both to acquire a different status and to change in nature. In addition, Renaissance humanism had increased self-consciousness of mental processes, which consequently became more instrumentalized. The means by which an individual undertook training in meditative techniques might therefore be expected to change quite radically, due to this questioning of authority outside that individual’s own mind: to what extent could such training continue to be dictated by any

Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation


master practitioner, and to take the form of imitation? Renaissance Humanism opened the way to challenging established authorities in all domains, facilitating the rise and spread of the Reformation, and – from the mid-sixteenth century, if not before – the Catholic Church’s own internal reform. However, in an endeavour to establish and maintain its own concepts of orthodoxy in Christian belief and practice, the Church of Rome introduced regulations governing both; it tacitly restricted the oversight of and instruction in devotions to specially trained clergy, thus attempting to control even private meditation. And these figures of authority in turn were inevitably, if unconsciously, treating meditational techniques in a more instrumentalized manner. Given the bi-directional relationship between meditation and training in it, perhaps intrinsic in any cultural context but certainly within the specific historic one examined here, this chapter focuses on a single book devised to serve as a handbook to practitioners  – or perhaps more accurately ‘apprentices’  – in certain ekphrastic techniques and practices of meditation. La Peinture Spirituelle, by the eminent French Jesuit, Louis Richeome (1544–1625), was first published in Lyons in 1611, then in Arras (1613) and finally Paris (1628).6 It was originally written for use by devout Catholic men, either Jesuit novices or laymen who had left the ‘world’ for a period to follow a retreat, in the Jesuits’ House of Probation in Lyons;7 more precisely, this manual would have been conceived for their use after receiving instruction there, directly from a Jesuit father, after returning to everyday life in the ‘world’. By the time of its final publication this text had evidently become considered appropriate for wider use, by devout Catholics throughout France, but no doubt still only after initial instruction, provided on an individual basis by an experienced practitioner, moreover one who was an authorized instructor in Catholic devotion.

La Peinture Spirituelle First, it is necessary to describe Richeome’s book, as a physical object, in order to understand what kind of aid it was expected to provide for the trainee meditant.8 This book has as subtitle L’Art d’admirer, aimer et louer Dieu en toutes ses oeuvres et tirer de toutes profit salutere [The skill of admiring, loving and praising God through all his works, and of extracting salvific benefit from them all].9 For contemporaries the title and small (octavo) format of the book (in both first and second editions) would have recalled an artisan’s – especially an apprentice’s – manual. The trainee meditant would thus have understood that his or her devotional training required effort, and was a matter of practice, imitating Masters. In turn the imitation of such fellow disciples – ‘imitatio apostoli’ – was a necessary step towards imitating Christ himself – ‘imitatio Christi’ – so as to be transformed into His image, and thus restored to mankind’s preLapsarian state. Hence Thomas à Kempis’ Imitatio Christi (a work produced within the circle of Devotio Moderna) was among the few books, besides the Gospels, permitted while undertaking the Spiritual Exercises.10 In craft manuals, such a bipartite title was common, with the first part often referring to a subject and the second part to the related practical skill required, in which the artisan wished to attain proficiency.11 In the case of the original edition of Richeome’s book the ‘subtitle’ appears in the centre of the frontispiece’s page and is in much larger typefaces


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

than the ‘title’, with the largest typeface being used for, and thus emphasizing, the words L’Art d’admirer. The seventeenth-century French sense of admirer closely followed that of the Latin from which it was derived (admirari), meaning to view with wonder, or to marvel at; it implied a sustained – even passionate – gaze, which produced an effect of astonishment in the beholder, primarily because the cause of surprise was unknown; and it often led to striving after the source of this astonishment.12 The contents confirm the primacy of such gaze in the kind of meditation being nurtured by this work. Both inside and outside the Society of Jesus, there were numerous discussions as to whether or not meditation should be directed towards images, but Catholic meditation was generally directed towards them, external or internal. This was because Christianity’s roots had been laid in a late antique, and therefore predominately Aristotelian, culture; moreover, Scholastic theology, including Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica – the principal text underlying the Jesuits’ own theological training – had further developed within such a philosophical framework. As we shall see below, it was believed that since man is a material, rather than purely spiritual, being, even his mental processes cannot operate without the aid of images. Richeome’s lengthy book (nearly 800 pages in the first edition) is constructed as seven sequences (livres (books)), whose subsections, labelled as numbered tableaux (literally ‘pictures’), each contain a verbal description devised so as to conjure up a vivid image in the reader’s mind, or more specifically, in his or her imagination. In seventeenth-century France the meaning of the word spirituel was much broader than today, connoting far more than ‘spiritual’ in the sense of ‘religious’; as the adjective corresponding to the noun esprit (and Latin spiritus), it covered anything pertaining to soul and/or mind. In other words, a peinture spirituel would most likely be understood as denoting any mental image, not necessarily a devotional one; indeed, the ‘pictures’ described here by Richeome are not exclusively religious in the sense of portraying saints and martyrs, illustrating scriptural narratives or personifying theological virtues, but also include portraits of legendary figures from pagan antiquity and representations of such (secular) abstractions as types of illness and their remedies.13 But in fact the work is not about peinture spirituelle in terms of any painting as a material object, or even as an immaterial one, made in the mind. Rather it is concerned with mental painting (ekphrasis) as an activity; Richeome virtually orders his readers, quite early on in the work, ‘make pictures inside yourselves, such as you can’ and ‘conceive in your mind/soul, all that can be imagined’.14 This work effectively presents each ‘picture’ as an exercise in making and using such images for devotional purposes: not as images to be passively gazed upon but as catalysts for intense inner activity. Richeome’s work is thus best considered as a manual for an apprentice eager to perfect his practice of this aspect of Christian meditation.

Mental pictures (tableaux) as devotional exercises Within each ‘book’ of Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle, each ‘picture’ (tableau) not only describes a particular image but also tacitly provides an exercise in a different way of using mental imagery for devotional purposes. Here Richeome was not devising a

Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation


new method of meditation but simply training his French contemporaries within the tradition of Spiritual Exercises developed by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits: exercises which encompass both meditation and contemplation, as well as various other ‘spiritual activities’.15 In several of these Exercises the meditant is explicitly instructed to make ‘a mental representation of the subject’ – a practice known as ‘composition of place’.16 The aim was to create as vivid an image as possible in the mind – and in most instances these images are drawn from the life of Christ  – so as to be able to enter into it, intellectually and emotionally. For instance, with regard to the Nativity of Christ, where the meditant is led through a succession of scenes comprising the Gospel narrative. It is in this way that Richeome presents his first ‘picture’,17 of the martyrdom of St Andrew, except that here, at the beginning of the book – or course – he moves the reader between external viewing and interior reflection through a calculated series of stages, as if to revise the Ignatian practice already known to the reader, but guiding him or her through it without any instructor being physically available, as they would have been during any initial training.18 First, he refers directly to the engraving facing the pages of his text, describing it and encouraging the reader’s participation in the exercise by confirming their own identification of the principal figure: ‘There’s no need, my beloved, to tell you the name of this venerable old man, arms and legs attached to the cross, comprising the principal character in this picture’.19 Then he briefly moves away from the picture, exhorting his readers to ‘imitate’ the saint’s ‘virtues and deeds’, notably his bravery. Soon, however, he brings his reader back to the picture, this time ordering him or her not merely to look at it but to ‘contemplate’ it.20 He now draws the viewer’s attention not to St Andrew but to those gathered around him (‘See to one side of this noble old man, and to the other, this crowd of people’) and immediately proceeds – albeit covertly – to invite his reader to join those physically close to the apostle ‘who look at him, who have compassion for him, and with good reason admire his admirable patience’21 – in other words, to join with the contemporary witnesses, and not only in gazing on the apostle but also in feeling for him. Richeome then briefly elaborates upon the pain endured and the martyr’s beatific response, drawing the reader’s attention to the ropes used in place of nails (presented here as prolonging the saint’s agony) but then draws him or her away to a verbal account of the saint’s apostolic mission and his consequent, heavenly triumph, encouraging the reader to now engage their imagination. At this point he is clear as to the engraved picture’s limitations and of the need to ‘supplement’ it with text: ‘The painter didn’t know how to represent them [his triumphs] to the eyes, except by small dashes [i.e. the halo in the engraving]; learn about them in passing, through a brief narration, as a supplement to the Paintbrush’.22 Three whole sections (or chapters) ensue, detailing the saint’s missionary activities – in other words his life in the service of God, as opposed to his death.23 The title of the fifth section  – ‘Description of the picture being of saint Andrew on the cross’ – signals a return to the picture, moving back from the saint’s invisible ‘victory’ to gaze once more on the ‘realistic’ representation of his suffering body, but to understand it figuratively, as an image pointing towards a deeper truth: ‘I want you to contemplate a little the body in this picture; because it represents to you through beautiful artifice a figure of his suffering, one conforming to truth’. In order to bring


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the reader to this inner apprehension of deeper realities embodied in this physical picture, Richeome takes him or her back to the crowd of contemporary viewers, indeed bringing him or her in among them, even implicitly inviting him or her to join with them in a bodily response by making devotional gestures: You see in this picture nearly everyone sad, some with their arms crossed and staring at the ground, with a doleful expression, others raising their hands to heaven, and crying, some on their knees bowing their head.24

Richeome proceeds to enumerate the kinds of people gathered around the dying saint, such as clergy distressed by what they see (such that this will move them to missionary activity of their own) and soldiers or other ‘pagans’ (portrayed as being virtually unaware of what is really going on);25 and he does so in order to present the reader with a range of people with whom to identify, or rather whose actions he or she must decide to follow, or imitate. But he then immediately takes the reader back to the central character in the picture, ‘this glorious old man bound to the cross’.26 Richeome now explicitly presents this particular saint as a figure, since his physical actions not only confirm his words (‘[he] says that there is nothing on earth more glorious than to endure for this Lord, and he authenticates this doctrine through the goodness of its results’) – but equally serve to point us towards deeper realities that neither words nor pictures alone can convey, leading us from these into a prayer to Christ, as the one capable of transforming such sufferings into triumphs. He concludes this section by simultaneously reminding the reader of the limitations inherent in the physical picture – ‘the paintbrush, again, has only been able to express a little part of this, as you can see’ – and urging him or her to return to gazing upon it: ‘Look at his face so full of assurance, his eyes raised to heaven, his brilliant red lips, and the serenity of his expression’. This time, however, the reader is led to internalize the picture, or engage with it in the imagination, so as to perceive a deeper reality behind the images: Don’t you see that he seems to laugh at his torments, and at his enemies these Devils, who procure them for him? Such that if the picture’s maker had known how to portray these Devils in painted form, you would now be seeing them leap in the air, enraged by their great vexation: you would see them spinning, snoring, and acquiring horns, at seeing a weak old man, in his nineties, bound hand and foot to a piece of wood, to so valiantly knock them down through such fine moves, & to withstand them, & to knock them out so briskly at each draw of the sword, and to mock them as a victorious Captain.27

The section concludes by returning the reader to verbal narrative (‘hear how’),28 a section entitled ‘How Christians, notably monks and nuns, fight victoriously on the cross, their feet and hands bound to it’;29 this offers an entirely figurative reading of the painting, and moreover one implicitly applied to the individual reader – as an image of having one’s own hands and feet tied, voluntarily, as a sign of obedience to the divine call – or rather the picture provides the pretext for a digression on this theme. In the middle of this section the reader is taken back, for the last time, to the picture, and this

Jesuit Ekphrastic Meditation


time is presented with the various Christians portrayed around the foot of the cross, so as to be able to choose one with whom to identify throughout the remainder of the exercise: This woman with flowing tresses, kneeling at his feet: completely afflicted, and stretching out her arms, cries for him impatiently, and shows herself to have an astounding empathy with him. This is, in my view, Maximille, a Christian lady, and a member of the city’s nobility, who will subsequently bury the martyr’s body honourably. See this other mother who, abandoning her little one, joins herself to the cross, reproaching the pagans for their barbarity, fearless of their arms!30

This Ignatian approach  – one that began by imagining the historic scene and then proceeded to the meditant’s entering into it and playing their own role within it – is perhaps most vividly presented in the final ‘picture’ in this first ‘book’, that of the young Jesuit novice, Stanislas Kostka. Here the meditant is instructed to follow the young saint, literally step by step, through a day’s activities31 (an imaginative act of imitatio apostoli which would probably have also encouraged the meditant, on returning to the external world, to physically follow his or her Christian role models there). Subsequent ‘books’ in the Peinture Spirituelle then added new techniques and recapitulated, or further developed, techniques already introduced previously, while simultaneously reinforcing the meditant’s skills in in the art (or craft) of peinture spirituelle – of composing such pictures in one’s own imagination, so as to be able to enter into them intellectually and emotionally – by providing practice in this ‘art’. The work therefore begins, in the first ‘book’, with four detailed ‘exercises’ (averaging nearly 15 pages each), the first being the longest in the entire work (20 pages). The next book contains twice as many ‘exercises’ in meditation (tableaux), each on average half the length (in other words, leaving more of the imaginative work to the reader), and when the reader arrives at the fifth book s/he is faced with nearly 80 exercises, only three of which (apart from the concluding one) occupy more than a couple of pages each. In the first edition each ‘book’ opened with an engraved plate, and in the cases of three ‘books’ one or two more engravings were inserted further on within their texts. As detailed above, the very first exercise makes detailed use of the engraving in the manner of a classic Ignatian exposition. In some respects this recalls that Jesuit illustrated work most widely used, worldwide, in early modern times for training Catholic laity in meditative prayer, the Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia32 (1595), authored by the highly influential Jesuit figure Jerónimo Nadal (1507–80), who founded the first Jesuit college for laymen in Messina in 1548, in response to Ignatius’ own demand for illustrations to guide prayerful meditation on the Gospels. In each ‘book’ Richeome’s first exercise is then followed by others where (except for the few cases where a relevant supplementary image is supplied within that ‘book’) the reader is left to supply ‘pictures’ made in his own mind. However, the final exercise in this first ‘book’ (on a ‘picture’ of Stanislas Kostka) may well be intended to promote an alternative means of support for private devotions of this type, namely the use of material imagery not supplied by the author but widely available to readers, who are thus tacitly encouraged to seek these out for themselves. In this case we know of several


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

cheap prints available by this date for an image of the scene described in Richeome’s text.33 Richeome’s fourth exercise, the one focusing on Stanislas Kostka, thus encouraged in the reader a habit of exploiting whatever material imagery was available to him or her, thereby ‘finding God in all things’ (another Ignatian practice). While the second book again opens with an engraving, this time it does not represent any individual ‘picture’ described in the text but instead represents the physical setting in which all these ‘pictures’ are said to be located, namely the noviciate’s refectory. Although the paintings are shown here in their respective positions, they are each delineated too vaguely for identification; likewise two further engravings – that of the noviciate overall (for the sixth ‘book’) and that of the church of St Vitale (the central one in the seventh, and final, ‘book’) – again depict the overall setting for the ‘pictures’ in those ‘books’, rather than show any specific ‘picture’ in enough detail for these material images to be used as the basis for any of the ‘exercises’ in those books (i.e. almost a third of the engravings make no pretence at representing individual ‘pictures’). Thus in these cases the reader found him- or herself from the outset of the ‘book’ lacking any material image that directly represented the ‘picture’ being described – or rather evoked – in the text. Furthermore, the engravings, although seeming to have been commissioned especially for this work,34 do not always fit the text in such a way as to be able to be used as visual replacements for the verbal description provided in the related exercise. For instance, the final engraving, ‘The Martyrdom of St Vitalius’,35 does not correspond directly with any of the pictures being described in the corresponding section of the text; nor does it reproduce either of the two relevant paintings – of Vitalius’ torture and his martyrdom – actually in the church. Instead the engraving conflates the subject matter from two separate ‘pictures’ described in the text (and present in the church) and identifies these as scenes within the engraved composition, denoted by the letters A and B respectively (in the manner of the engravings commissioned by Nadal for his Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia, which consistently lettered separate details within each plate, so as to be able to clearly relate sections of the accompanying text to particular details in the illustration); it then also inserts into the new image two further ‘pictures’, identified by the letters C and D, which illustrate further details mentioned within the text but not described as appearing within the ekphrastic ‘pictures’ it described, or rather was intended to evoke in the reader’s mind.36 Given Richeome’s experience by this date in selecting or commissioning such images for insertion into his works,37 he evidently did not intend the relationship between text and image here to be one of simple illustration: the engraving neither provides a straightforward illustration (in terms of a visual translation of a verbal image) of any of the ‘pictures’ described in the text, nor does it reproduce a painting in the church,38 thus proving that Richeome’s text was not dependent upon those material images physically present within the Quirinal noviciate complex, which instead had only served him – as a rhetorician – more loosely in his composition of an ekphrastic text for meditative purposes. Moreover, neither the second edition, published just a couple of years after the first, nor the last, which while published posthumously explicitly proclaims itself to have been approved by Richeome,39 contain any engraved plates at all. Perhaps this implies that readers’ (mis)use of the work in its first edition led its author to suppress any

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material imagery, so as to force future readers to rely on verbal descriptions alone. In fact a third edition, published the same year, of Richeome’s earlier Tableaux Sacrez (originally published in 1601)  likewise dropped all the engravings,40 in this case present in both previous editions, and with them the frontispiece. This edition was the last one of that work (apart from the version published within the author’s complete Oeuvres, in 1628), and since it was published in the author’s lifetime one can assume that this quite radical change  – and in this work the text had been more integrally related to the engraved images than in the Peinture Spirituelle – the suppression of the engravings corresponded with his own deliberate intention, thus reflecting a certain development in his own ideas. The fact that such a suppression of images occurs in two works by the same author within the same year even though these were published by two different booksellers in two different towns (Arras and Rouen) supports the idea that the impetus for eschewing material images within these devotional works came from the author, rather than from his publisher. In fact the new frontispiece commissioned especially for the second edition of La Peinture Spirituelle can be interpreted as further supporting this hypothesis.41 It takes the common form of a doorway, flanked by an allegorical female figure on either side, but with the central section of the pediment obscured by a sunburst bearing the Hebrew characters signifying the divine name, while the cornice immediately below bears the inscription ‘Turris fortissima nomen domina’ [The name of the Lord is a strong tower] (Proverbs, 18, 10). The frontispiece is thus effectively crowned by an emblem, the Hebrew word in the pediment serving as figura and the inscription beneath as lemma; the figura therefore appears  – unusually  – in verbal instead of image form, while conversely the lemma simply states a metaphor (the divine name as tower), thereby providing an image where one expected words. This double reversal of expectations suggests immaterial, mental images in both cases: the image expressed in the form of a word, the inscription denoting an image. In turn the book’s title  – La Peinture Spirituelle – by appearing immediately below the inscription, also becomes the title of that emblem, thereby implying that the kind of activity that Richeome is writing about in this book is to be identified with the quality embodied in this emblem, namely mental painting.42 Or rather, conversely, the emblem becomes a profound illustration – a peinture spirituelle – for the work it introduces, identifying the object of admiration, through images. And in turn these images were themselves immaterial and intangible: peintures spirituelles, images created within the mind.

Ekphrasis: A rhetorical technique exploited for devotional purposes Ekphrasis – the graphic, even dramatic, description of a thing or event, so as to bring it to life in the mind of the hearer or reader – is a rhetorical figure or device. In the early seventeenth century it was much used by French orators, including Jesuits, perhaps most notably Richeome, and then, following him, Louis de Cresolles (1568–1634), Nicolas Caussin (1583–1651) and Pierre Le Moyne (1602–71). Ekphrasis had been a hallmark of the Greek Sophists in antiquity, and then in late antiquity of Second


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Sophists, who included early Church Fathers such as St John Chrysostom. In other words, it was a technique widespread in the late antique world and therefore readily practised by Christian rhetoricians operating within it; later on, in the West from the Renaissance onwards, rhetoricians operating within humanist circles renewed this practice, including certain Jesuit rhetoricians operating within the period often called the Counter-Reformation, notably Richeome. In his earlier Tableaux Sacrez (1601), he makes clear his awareness of the relationship of his own work to that of the Greek Sophists. Here he explicitly refers to one of them, Philostratus,43 as a creator of ekphrasis, or paincture parlante (speaking painting), the kind of image that speaks to the ear (as opposed to paincture muette (dumb painting), created by painters or sculptors): Such are the verbal descriptions or stories that are made by Poets, or storytellers, about a tree, a river, an animal, a tempest, a virtue, a vice, or some other true or imaginary thing. This sort [of picture] includes narratives which exist to explain any artificial thing, whether it is present or it is feigned to be so. Such are Philostrate’s pictures: as in those there is neither colour nor painting, but the word alone which feigns the images and figures, and decodes the author’s imagination as if having the painting before one’s eyes.44

The book to which Richeome is alluding here is Philostratus’ Eikones, in which the Greek rhetorician described 65 paintings, mainly depicting antique myths, all of which he claimed to have seen in a gallery in Naples. This text was widely known, having been published from the early sixteenth century,45 with the first French translation (or rather edition) of Philostratus, Les Images ou Tableaux de Platte Peinture, being published in 1578, and immediately proving very successful; moreover, it appears that it was endorsed by the Jesuits, who not only recommended it46 but seem to have sponsored an edition of this translation, indeed one published within the Jesuits’ Province de Lyon and in the same year as Richeome’s own work.47 Philostratus’ text, just like that of Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle, barely mentioned the gallery, which simply served as the structure into which to insert his ekphrastic descriptions; again, as in Richeome’s text, Philostratus focused instead on these descriptions of the paintings, which were purely verbal, without any accompanying visual images. Nevertheless, a folio edition of this French translation of Philostratus, published just a couple of years before Richeome’s text included numerous full-page copperplate engravings as illustrations, its frontispiece presenting the colonnaded gallery of an academy in antiquity, opening onto a garden, as the dominant element in its frontispiece; and this edition also provided visual illustrations for the verbally described paintings, in the form of full-plate engravings.48 Richeome was no doubt aware of this illustrated edition of Philostratus, not least since he was using the same engravers  – Thomas de Leu and Léonard Gaultier  – for his Tableaux Sacrez. The approach followed in the illustrated edition of Philostratus – of doubling ekphrastic images by visual ones – would in turn be followed by Jesuits, for example Pierre Le Moyne’s Les Peintures Morales (1640);49 moreover, the frontispiece there seems to refer to the 1609 edition of Philostratus, by again depicting a picture gallery in the form of a colonnade opening onto a garden.

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In the introductory Epistre to Philostratus’ Eikones its French translator, Blaise de Vigenère, had written that: Everything there is full of prosopopia, hypotyposis and ekphrasis: We don’t know how else to call these fictitious depictions of people: naturalistic representations: and descriptions that, without artifice, imitate nature truthfully; which bring things into the apprehension in as distinct a way as possible; best internalise those things that come to us from sensation; and imprint them more vividly in the understanding.50

Like ekphrasis, prosopopia and hypotyposis are rhetorical figures, and moreover ones which, again like ekphrasis, use words to make present to the hearer or reader things or events which are not physically there.51

A course in the form of a mnemonic promenade Just as Richeome’s mental pictures exploited antique rhetorical techniques and practices for the purpose of facilitating Christian meditation, so did the mnemonic structure into which he inserted them. Richeome lays out the ‘pictures’ constituting his text along a walk, with each ‘book’ corresponding to a physical space visited en route. In arranging his ‘pictures’ in this way his contemporaries might have recalled Philostratus’ allusion to the garden gallery of antique academies but, given the context of the specific work, they might also have drawn a parallel between that physical setting and the traditional locus for meditative practices in Christian religious orders: the monastic cloister.52 Indeed, in the conclusion of his dedication to the Jesuits’ then General in Rome, Claudio Acquaviva, Richeome had identified the physical model for this series of spaces as the unique site that epitomized, at an international level, his own order’s specifically spiritual training: the Jesuits’ noviciate in the Quirinal Hill in Rome. This identification is then confirmed in the following Epistre to that noviciate’s rector, Octaviano Navarola. As the work progresses the author pretends to be taking his reader around the complex, moving from top to bottom of the site, and the ‘books’ correspond to the successive stages in this walk: the Church of S. Andrea (Book 1), then the Refectory (Book 2), Residence (Book 3), Recreation Room (Book 4)  and Infirmary (Book 5), then out into the gardens (Book 6) and finally back inside, into the Church of S. Vitale (Book 7).53 A complex consisting of several buildings and gardens, each in turn comprising several spaces, has evidently taken the place of a single gallery or cloister, thereby providing ‘places’ for a larger number of ‘pictures’ than would be possible using a single building or outdoor space. Since Richeome was writing for men who would be undertaking retreats in the new Domus Probationis at Lyons – novices from across south-eastern France, western Savoy or (Spanish) Franche-Comté, and laymen almost exclusively from the Lyonese region – few if any of his readers would ever have visited Rome at all, let alone gained access to the Jesuits’ noviciate building there; indeed, they were highly unlikely ever to do so. In appropriating this actual built complex as the structure for his written work,


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Richeome was therefore taking a model known to himself but not to his readers, for whom the (re)construction of this model in their own imaginations would be even more an ekphrastic act than the (re)construction of the individual ‘pictures’, since hardly any description of these spaces is provided. Although one of the engravings in the first edition shows the overall site, this image does not appear until well over halfway through the work,54 by which time the reader would have had to (re)construct most of the spaces in his own imagination. Inserting a series of images into an architectural structure (or into a townscape or series of gardens) was known to be a device that facilitated recall of each item in sequence. Such a method of loci (places) – which could be drawn either from memory (i.e. recollection of an actual physical site) or from imagination – was claimed to have been invented in Greek antiquity;55 and it was evidently developed and much used by Roman orators, with treatises in rhetoric – notably those authored by Cicero and Quintilian – providing instruction in it.56 Although techniques of artificial memory continued to be used throughout most of the Middle Ages, especially in monastic circles,57 they were greatly revived at the Renaissance when, under Humanism, rhetoric began to challenge the dominant role logic or dialectic had played until then. Antique rhetoric treatises were re-examined critically and then printed;58 memory systems were further developed, with new, abstracted ‘memory theatres’ being devised which allowed the storage and retrieval of vast numbers of items, each identified by mnemonic images; and such systems were integrated into Humanistic education. Jesuits were exploiting such systems from the Society’s earliest decades,59 not only using them in their own preaching and other public oratory but also teaching them to pupils in their colleges. Just a few years after Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle appeared, Jan Paepp’s handbook Artificiosae memoriae fundamenta was published,60 offering a memory theatre of halfa-million places; it was soon taken up by the Jesuits as a college textbook, thus ensuring its multiple editions through the century. But by then the use of loci in a variety of mnemonic techniques was so widespread as to appear in the course of non-specialist literary works; one of the best known instances of this was Merlin’s picture gallery, in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, a very popular book much-reprinted from the early sixteenth century onwards.61 Richeome’s readers were therefore likely to have been familiar with such mnemonic techniques and to recognize his structuring of his course in Christian meditation as tacitly referring to, and indeed exploiting, this rhetorical tradition, one recognizably antique (and therefore pagan) in origin.

Christian meditation and antique rhetoric It has often been noted that Ignatius had developed his Spiritual Exercises from earlier Christian meditational practices that he had discovered and found useful himself, notably Ludolph of Saxony’s De Vita Christi.62 It is clear that Richeome (and most of his French Jesuit contemporaries) were not only working within this Catholic tradition but were now also exploiting secular techniques, first developed by rhetoricians in antiquity and then revived by Humanists from the Renaissance onwards, in order to further develop that pre-existing devotional tradition. Although Ignatius Loyola

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would have had some awareness of these rhetorical techniques, it would have been to a much lesser degree than his followers in the seventeenth century, not least because they benefited from the systematic training in rhetoric as developed by the order, subsequently reinforced by extensive practice of it. But equally, these followers were now operating within a context where such practice of rhetoric had infiltrated literary culture to a much greater extent than in Ignatius’ time, thereby changing the nature and expectations of any audience or readership that Jesuits were to address.63 Although rhetoric was taught and practised throughout the Middle Ages, it acquired a greater role from the Renaissance onwards, as it began to displace logic, not least as the basic discipline in those systems of education now dominating. Humanists returned to the antique texts on rhetoric (principally Cicero’s De Oratore, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria and the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium, attributed to Cicero until the late fifteenth century), critically examining them and then exploiting them for current use. Renaissance Humanism was largely a civic movement, including non-noble men (and sometimes women) in academies, and in this context rhetoric was seen as a tool for democratic urban society, therefore carrying moral import. It was in this spirit that Humanist education was promoted in France from the late fifteenth century (but especially through the first half of the sixteenth century), through town colleges across the land, mainly founded by cities but in a few cases by individual benefactors (usually high-ranking clergy) to provide free education for sons of citizens. Due to the expense of supporting such institutions, from the mid-sixteenth century towns began to turn to certain religious orders whose teaching fitted their Humanist agendas, primarily because celibate men were cheaper teachers than were married men. The Jesuits’ Ratio Studiorum not only fitted this civic agenda but even promoted it, as it proved capable of providing effective education. The first of its three cycles – the only one taken by most pupils – was actually called ‘Rhetoric’, and moved in five years through ‘Grammar’, then ‘Humanities’ (the material required for filling orations: geohistory and poetry/mythology), so as to culminate in the final year of ‘Rhetoric’ itself. All Jesuits not only completed this cycle (and two further ones, in Philosophy and Theology) but also, as a compulsory part of their training, spent at least five years teaching it, thereby acquiring additional proficiency and self-confidence. All Jesuits were therefore rhetoricians, both by training and practice, and in the majority of cases by career: as preachers, apologists and so on. It was possible for Richeome (and many of his contemporaries) to integrate elements of these two practices  – of Christian devotional meditation and antique secular rhetoric – in part because of a certain pragmatic compatibility between them. Both were taught through imitation – of models, human and textual, worthy of emulation – and through practice.

Meditation moulded by, or exploiting, rhetoric? Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle is a devotional manual but was written by a Christian Humanist who was also one of the most eminent rhetoricians of his day, to the extent that he was called the ‘French Cicero’.64 As such he conceived this manual in terms of a piece of rhetoric: as a structure into which lively and illustrative demonstrationes, in


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the form of ‘pictures’, were inserted. Such a standard rhetorical practice had already been absorbed into the devotional sphere, not least by Richeome himself; indeed, for his earlier Tableaux sacrez he had actually appropriated nine copperplate images from a series produced a few years earlier by the eminent engraver Léonard Gaultier65 (to which he added five more by the engravers Karel van Mallery and Thomas de Leu, presumably commissioned specially for his own work). This way of proceeding  – of appropriating existing images and inserting them into a new context  – became commonplace in the Renaissance (and throughout the early modern period, and even beyond), not least as, on a practical level, printers found it to be an economically viable way of operating, enabling them to exploit woodcut blocks or copperplates (the element in any illustrated work which incurred them the greatest expense) on more than a single occasion. Whenever any single image was reused in this way, the change in its context inevitably altered the image’s reading; the intellectual possibilities thus opened up were in turn exploited, notably through the fashionable word-image amalgam, the emblem – a genre in which Jesuits, trained in rhetoric, seem to have excelled.66 In the case of Richeome’s Peinture spirituelle it is therefore the work’s structure, despite its apparent relegation to a background role  – as a mere support for the ‘pictures’ that dominate in the text – which, almost covertly, fulfils the work’s primary aim: to aid the reader in his admiration of all God’s works, so as to thereby come into the presence of God Himself, as the prerequisite for loving Him. While at a material level the work’s structure is as a series of books each presenting a physical space, itself the support for a series of ‘pictures’ (the artificial ones of paintings in the indoor spaces and the natural ones of plants and animals in the outdoor ones), at a rhetorical level the content is presented quite differently. In his introductory Epistre to the Rector of the Jesuits’ noviciate at Rome, Richeome explains that his work presents God’s works  – in other words, the objects for ‘admiration’, and thus the vehicles for bringing a viewer, in this case a meditant, into the presence of God – through three sorts of picture. The first five books (which take the Church of S. Andrea and the novices’ residence as their structure) offer pictures of God’s works of grace: the mysteries of faith and accounts of Christian lives (i.e. human response to divine grace). The sixth book (‘The Gardens’) offers pictures of God’s works of nature: ‘of trees, plants, birds, and so on.’ The seventh book offers pictures of God’s works in the form of martyrs, those who in turn have received an exceptional kind of divine grace (grace singulière) because they have proved themselves to be the ‘most valiant combatants in God’s regiments’. The overarching context provided here is of a focus on divine grace, beginning with a series of ‘books’ expounding aspects of such grace, and culminating in an entire ‘book’ expounding its effect upon the lives of those who accept to receive it, in turn becoming embodied illustrations of that grace. Taken overall, this presentation of grace in turn offers a positive, Catholic imaging of a doctrine – grace – that lay at the heart of contemporary confessional division, indeed one at this time a focus of Catholic-Protestant controversy. Within this context Richeome is presenting his training in meditation as a positive means by which to live out Catholic doctrine. The ‘pictures’ inserted into this framework then serve as vivid illustrations that bring the work’s messages to life, but also nuance it significantly. The work might initially be

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seen as being framed by two spaces, and two pictures, that effectively balance each other: the Church of S. Andrea, with the engraving corresponding to its altarpiece, depicting St. Andrew’s martyrdom;67 and the Church of S. Vitale, with the engraving of St. Vitalius’ torture and martyrdom,68 likewise in late Antiquity. Yet on further reading the situation is rather different, as although the final engraving is of Vitalius’ death, long ago, the central engraving illustrating the final book is of that church in the present day, its foreground filled with the living bodies of Jesuits serving their contemporaries: through celebrating the Eucharist, preaching, confessing, catechizing or distributing alms.69 And the concluding section of the text concerns ‘The Excellence of putting Christian doctrine into practice’.70 In other words the message delivered here, through words and image together, is a call to give one’s life to God, not necessarily through dying for Him but rather through dedicating one’s life to Him, up to and including the moment of death. Moreover, the view of the church interior presented in this engraving further confirms such a reading of its intention; for while dominated by contemporary Jesuits, it actually focuses (in terms of perspective) on the High Altar, or rather on its altarpiece, and secondarily on the mural filling the apse behind and above. Depicted too indistinctly to be deciphered without the aid of the text, these two paintings together provided the key to an alternative reading of this final ‘book’, for which Richeome had stated the ‘pictures’ to be of martyrs, and indeed of the entire work. For the altarpiece shows neither Vitalius’ torture nor his martyrdom (which, being the subject of paintings on the side wall of the sanctuary are effectively out of view in this scene). Instead it portrays the patron saint with his family – his wife Valeria, and his children Gervasius and Protasius – all to become martyrs (respectively being buried alive, beaten to death, stoned with lead pellets and beheaded) but depicted here in fullness of life. Given the painting’s location, it would have evoked the family group most commonly depicted in such a position, namely the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and Jesus – likewise depicted in life, but always known to any believer viewing them to foretell the ultimate martyrdom. Meanwhile the painting filling the apse above and behind was of ‘Jesus carrying his Cross’: a living human being, albeit likewise en route to martyrdom, surrounded by a very mixed crowd of onlookers, in which the viewer could find an individual with whom to identify, and empathize. The centrality of the cross suggests that this ‘picture’, as much as the altarpiece, serves as the ‘book end’ complementing the ‘picture’ of St Andrew’s martyrdom at the beginning, but now presented more by means of ekphrasis than through a physical image. In fact that opening picture had been accompanied by a text on ‘The way of the cross’, a title usually associated in Catholic culture with Christ’s final journey from Jerusalem to Golgotha, carrying his cross. But on arriving at the final ‘book’ of Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle, the reader would be struck by the juxtaposition between the two central paintings in S. Vitale – of a ‘Holy Family’ of future martyrs and of Christ carrying his cross  – and, simultaneously, between them and the activity of Jesuits more graphically presented as the illustration to the descriptions of these ‘pictures’. To some degree at least, martyrdom could always be understood, within orthodox Catholic theology, as a similitude: the expression of ‘voluntary endurance’ (to use Thomist terminology).71


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

This particular work by Richeome had already hinted at such an interpretation, in that the initial and final ‘pictures’ of the cross are intercepted by another, an engraving that appears tucked within the body of the work, ‘Blessed Father Ignatius’ vision’.72 This depicted Ignatius Loyola, at a crucial moment in the establishment of the order, on his way to Rome, where the nascent order – and with it its founder – might be authorized or condemned; while praying (in other words bringing himself into the presence of God, thus through ‘meditation’) in the derelict chapel at La Storta, a hamlet just outside the city, Ignatius received this vision of Christ carrying his cross, as is clearly depicted in the related engraving.73 The signification here was not necessarily of a call to martyrdom in the literal sense but rather to obedience to the divine call, of faith in divine providence and in a willingness to undergo ultimate self-sacrifice through (offering, and even giving up) one’s life: dedicating it to active service following Christ as much as giving it up through death. Contemporary confessional debates made the issue as to whether faith alone could secure salvation a live issue, with the Church of Rome emphasizing the need for ‘works’ alongside. It is precisely within the context of the role of faith in martyrdom that Aquinas had stated that faith comprised both inward belief and outward profession, and that the latter was expressed through both words and deeds.74 Within this context seventeenth-century novices and retreatants alike would have understood the living bodies of the Jesuits depicted in the foreground, and therefore ‘nearest’ to the reader, as embodying martyrdom through giving their living bodies, in active service, through work such as almsgiving constituting servanthood to the least of society (‘aux petits’). By encompassing the entire space of the church interior, the engraving emphasizes a certain continuity, at once visual (and spatial) and theologically significant, moving the meditant’s eye through a spatial continuity from a nave populated by the living, active bodies of Jesuits in one’s own day, through early Christians (ones venerated as martyrs but here depicted in full life, without any hint of forthcoming physical martyrdom) filling the altarpiece above the High Altar, to Christ Himself painted in the apse above (once more shown living and active, albeit with more than a hint this time at forthcoming sacrificial death). The engraving’s foreground presents its viewer with a clear and unambiguous portrayal of Jesuits undertaking activities in which the viewer is tacitly encouraged to participate, by serving alongside these men who have already dedicated their lives to full-time religious service; as the eye moves through the picture one is effectively invited to join in this divine service by contributing materially to alms that the Jesuits can then distribute, by listening to (and acting upon) teaching delivered by these theologically orthodox priests, by coming to them humbly for confession and by receiving the eucharist from them. The eye is thus led to the picture of Vitalius’ family, represented more dimly in this engraving and therefore requiring the viewer to engage more with the text, entering into an act of ekphrasis; and this movement, from outer to inner imagery is taken a step further as one proceeds to the more faintly presented image of Christ carrying His cross, whose perception thus becomes the most interiorized activity, moving from external to internal ‘viewing’. At this point the meditant is expected to recall the Scripture figured here, Christ’s teaching that to follow Him implies carrying His cross with Him,75 thus extending to the ultimate this

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idea of ‘martyrdom’ as self-denying, active service, now directly serving one’s God, rather than through service to one’s fellow men. As Aquinas had stated in his Summa: A martyr is so called as being a witness to the Christian faith, which teaches us to despise things visible [Hebrews 11]. Accordingly it belongs to martyrdom that a man bear witness to the faith in showing by deed that he despises all things present in order to obtain invisible goods to come.76

If meditation, as a means to spiritual communion, was to be learned through imitation and practice, then it was only part of a larger programme of imitation (and practice) in which imitatio apostoli (imitation of disciples) led to imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ): imitation necessarily begins with imitation of models closest to one’s own current position, and even within reach of one’s own physical senses.

Catholic theology, ekphrastic images and theories of ‘seeing’ The relationship between the visible and invisible, between the relatively superficial actualities of this world and the more profound, more long-lasting spiritual realities of another, lie at the heart of any form of meditation, but perhaps especially one which emphasizes the use, even the necessity, of images in the mediation between these two worlds. Seventeenth-century Jesuits, in common with many of their contemporaries, believed that all knowledge, not only knowledge of the divine, depended upon images. Aquinas, in his commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul), had famously stated that ‘Nihil potest homo intelligere sine phantasmate [Man cannot perceive or understand anything without mental images]’,77 thereby lending Scholastic authority to Aristotle’s own statement on which he was commenting: ‘Man cannot contemplate/ understand without a mental image representing the theory being contemplated’.78 Mediaeval and early modern faculty psychology was fundamentally Aristotelian, and although the Scholastic, and subsequently Humanist, model of mind was modified over time, certain essentials remained throughout. The mind could only apprehend the world through the physical senses, but the material nature of the ‘images’ transmitted from the outside world via the physical sense organs made this insensible and incomprehensible to the immaterial mind and/or soul. These material ‘images’ – species (in French especes) – therefore had to be translated into immaterial, or mental, images – phantasmata (phantosmes in French) – in order to be perceived and comprehended by the immaterial mind and/or soul. This function of translation was accorded to the imagination (or to an imaginative faculty) within the mind; indeed the primary function of imagination (imaginatio) was seen not as being any kind of arbitrary and personal creation of novel imagery, but simply the systematic translation of images presented by the external, material and objective world. It is with this psychophysiological model in view that early modern Catholics, including Jesuits, understood the ways in which meditation could operate. It explains why, for them, mental images were an absolute essential.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Richeome was a prolific writer, and wrote extensively on religious imagery, as was not uncommon for Catholic apologists in the period often known as the CounterReformation. La Peinture Spirituelle (1611) falls within these, and in particular builds on ideas developed in his Trois discours pour la religion catholique: des miracles, des saincts, et des images (1597) and then his Tableaux sacrez des figures mystiques (1601). In his Trois discours, Richeome seems to elide the activities of meditating (méditer) and contemplating (contempler), and includes them both within that of mental activity (philosopher): .  .  . all those Christians who, in the first centuries, retreated from the bustle of the world to the deserts, did so to consider (philosopher), not only through contemplating the miracles of grace, which Jesus Christ had operated supernaturally, but also those of nature. St Anthony, meditating upon the life, passion, ascension, and other aspects of the mysteries of our faith, was delighted [literally: ravished]. He was also delighted in considering a plant, a bird, or any other creature however small it might be. St Benedict, St Bruno, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and all the other great contemplatives of their type were the same.79

Richeome immediately continues by citing his order’s founder, Ignatius Loyola, as another exemplar of such Christian mental practice, this time using the word admirer: Ignatius of Loyola our first founder was so well formed in admiring God’s creatures in God’s way, that there wasn’t any one of them that was not useful to him as a lesson.80

He thus equates, albeit implicitly, a specifically Christian form of ‘admiration’ (which, as has been stated earlier, would in his time and society have been understood as a kind of awe-filled gaze) with these other devotion-oriented mental activities. Since mental activity depends upon images, whether material or immaterial (mental), meditation and contemplation (as forms of Christian ‘Philosophy’, or activity engaging the immaterial part of humanity), and thus Christian meditation more generally, depend upon practising admiration of this sort, in other words learning to ‘see’ things through God’s eyes. Such meditative practice  – a certain ‘habit of seeing God’s wonders’  – progressively refines understanding (entendement) and admiration alike: ‘this habit progressively refines understanding of these wonders: & renders them more fit for admiration’.81 A modern reader might be surprised by Richeome’s seeming elision here of functions of mind (esprit) and of soul (âme), but this was commonplace in seventeenth-century France, where those two terms were often used almost interchangeably. This is in large part due to the Aristotelian perspective then largely dominant there, especially in Jesuit circles, with their Thomist theological foundations; in this the single essential differentiation was between the material and immaterial parts of the human, between ‘body’ and ‘soul’. Richeome’s explanation of the Adamic Fall is that its chief effect is that humans have now ‘lost knowledge (science) of several things’, that they have been

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punished by being deprived of access to knowledge and understanding of certain things.82 His remedy for this is humility, as the ‘foundation of true knowledge and understanding’, and the primordial Christian virtue,83 which will enable a postRenaissance individual to accept the authority of God and of his apostles on earth, and to exercise (self-)discipline in order to imitate them. Such practice of humility, alone, can enable God to open our eyes – implicitly our inner as well as outer ones – so that we become ‘true Christian philosophers’, those people who ‘learn to penetrate through to meaning hidden beneath the letter of miracles’; in other words, such Christians will acquire the capacity to see beyond ‘the external effect’ (which acts on the material body, effecting sentiment, or feeling) so as to perceive ‘the interior mystery of any holy Philosophy’ (which acts on the immaterial esprit or âme).84 It is within this context that Richeome states in his Trois discours that ‘Christian philosophy’ begins with admiration. Without an awareness of this psycho-physiological context, his statement that Scripture speaks through works, rather than through words, might seem to be a simple, even simplistic, repudiation of his Protestant opponents; but here it can be seen in a more positive light. His subsequent Tableaux sacrez then presents a series of such ‘works’ from the Old Testament, narratives which each serve as a prefiguration of the ‘Christian reality’ of the Eucharist: ‘Holy Pictures of the Mysticall Figures’, as his English colleagues translated the work’s title.85 It is from here that Richeome progresses to his manual on the Christian exploitation of mental images for the purposes of entering into divine communion, La Peinture Spirituelle: a practice designed specifically, as the subtitle announced (in larger letters), to acquire ‘the Art of Gazing on/Wondering at, loving and praising God through all his works and drawing salvific benefit from all of them’.


Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation in Orthodox Christianity Augustine Casiday Cardiff University

Reaching back to the early Christian practices discussed by Rönnegård and Johnsén, the radical focus on imageless prayer associated with the Orthodox insistence on God’s otherness and formlessness has continued to dominate the meditative and contemplative interests of Eastern Christianity. Augustine Casiday discusses the writings of St. Nikodimos Kallibourtzis (1749–1809), one of the editors of the premier collection of Eastern ascetic literature, the Philokalia. While attempting to renew Orthodox disciplines of prayer and contemplation by returning to their roots, in line with the Kollyvades reform movement’s opposition to Western influences, Nikodimos surprisingly also translated and adapted Roman Catholic writings on visual and thematic forms of meditation. And in spite of the aniconic or even iconoclastic tendencies within the Eastern church, he also recommended icons as objects for contemplation. Casiday shows that favourable views of visual and thematic meditations, as well as the contemplation of icons, have a long history within Eastern Christianity, in spite of their seeming conflict with the emphasis on ‘pure’ prayer. The emerging image of Orthodox prayer life is more complex, therefore, than conventional dichotomies would allow. In the end, however, the ultimate goal of these practices still lies in the contemplative, prayerful communion with a formless and uncreated God, reflecting the ideals of traditional Eastern spirituality.

Orthodox Christian disciplines of prayer, meditation and contemplation are closely associated with the hesychast movement and its ‘Prayer of the Name’, the rhythmic and, some would say, meditative recitation of an ancient and simple appeal to Jesus Christ for mercy (which for that reason is also known as the ‘Jesus Prayer’) that are counted off on the knots of a prayer rope. That practice is widely known owing to the popularity of the nineteenth-century Russian tale translated into English as The Way of a Pilgrim, which was itself mentioned in and thus further popularized by J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zoey.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

But there is more to this spiritual tradition than the Jesus Prayer. In this chapter, I will attempt to broaden our understanding of classical Byzantine practices of meditative prayer by taking seriously the evidence that those practices have been enriched by recourse to Western (i.e. Roman Catholic) disciplines of meditation with a pronounced visual character. Along the way, we will also consider the place allotted to icons as objects for contemplation and meditation within Orthodox Christianity. Both of these phenomena have in common that, for reasons that will emerge, they are seeming intrusions into the radical simplicity of that tradition’s emphasis on the otherness and formlessness of God and the insistence on pure and imageless prayer. In particular, I will look at how one of the editors of the Philokalia, the premier collection of Eastern Christian ascetic literature, St. Nikodimos Kallibourtzis (1749– 1809), translated key works from the Catholic Reformation as a major part of his project to renew Orthodox disciplines of prayer and contemplation.

Some tensions in contemporary Byzantine spirituality St. Nikodimos is one of the exemplary figures of The Holy Mountain of Athos, which enjoys the reputation for being a bastion of rock-ribbed Orthodox Christianity: for years, a sign at Esphigmenou monastery faced out to the sea boldly proclaiming their uncompromising slogan ORTHODOXIA Ē THANATOS (ORTHODOXY OR DEATH).1 The monks of Esphigmenou have long opposed the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s policies of ecumenical engagement with the Roman Catholic Church. Athonite hostility towards the West is nothing new. Over a century earlier, the English hymnographer Athelstan Riley expressed his view that dialogue between Anglicans and Athonites would be uniquely practicable. By way of contrast, he said of Athonite attitudes towards the Roman Church: ‘Between Easterns and Romans the case is different; the Oriental fear and hatred of the Papal pretensions and aggression are far weightier considerations than any question of orthodoxy’ (Riley, 1887, p. 109). With this background in mind, it is startling to see Nikodimos’ promotion of Catholic material and of icon devotion. Modern Byzantine contemplative practices turn out to be far more sophisticated than sharp dichotomies would allow. This chapter therefore situates itself within two dynamics: first, the inner tension within the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition between the affirmation of God’s complete otherness and formlessness, and the widespread use of visual imagery in the pursuit of a godly life; and secondly, the external tension between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholics in terms of which the propagation of Catholic spiritual writings and practices by a conservative Greek monk has enormous interest. We begin with a survey of the relevant Byzantine traditions, giving particular attention to the presuppositions about anthropology and human relations with God that characterize them. After this preliminary sketch of the theological and practical considerations pertaining to hesychast prayer, it will be good to turn to cultural and historical factors right away. Doing so sheds light on how texts and practices from the Catholic Reform initially became available within the Eastern Mediterranean and on the role Nikodimos’ personal formation will have played in his own vocation as an

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author and editor. From that point, we will be able to consider with greater precision the changes that are found in Nikodimos’ writings, especially his Ho Aoratos Polemos – an augmented translation of Il combattimento spirituale, by the Theatine priest Lorenzo Scupoli (c. 1530–1610). In translating Catholic meditations with a pronounced visual character for the benefit of Orthodox readers committed to imageless, hesychastic prayer, Nikodimos’ book modified Scupoli’s books in many ways. The results of this evaluation, it is hoped, will shed light on the transformation of meditative practices across a linguistic and cultural divide within Christianity.

Approaching the immaterial As mentioned, St Nikodimos is best known as co-editor of the Philokalia (Spidlík, 1991).2 The volume contains works of ascetical theology written over the span of more than a millennium and central to the Byzantine Orthodox disciplines of hesychia. The English translation of the Philokalia includes a glossary, which offers this account of that term: Stillness (ἡσυχία – hesychia): from which are derived the words hesychasm and hesychast, used to denote the whole spiritual tradition represented in the Philokalia as well as the person who pursues the spiritual path it delineates.. . . a state of inner tranquillity or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of heart and intellect. Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness to him. (Palmer et al., 1979–95, 1.365)

Within the hesychast tradition, pure prayer – a key feature in attaining and maintaining stillness – has definite features many of which are announced in an early stratum of the collection. The work in question is ps.-Nilus of Ancyra’s On prayer, now known to have been written by Evagrius Ponticus (Hausherr, 1934). Two aphorisms from On prayer are relevant to our topic: ‘Undistracted prayer is the highest function of the mind.’3 ‘Never give a shape to the divine as such when you pray, nor allow your mind to be imprinted by any form, but go immaterial to the Immaterial and you will understand.’4 Based on these and other statements, a widely received monograph has identified Evagrius as an ‘iconoclast’ and advocate of an ‘iconoclastic spirituality’.5 Such claims are rarely met in evaluations by scholars of Byzantine Christianity, who are more scrupulous in their use of the term ‘iconoclasm’ – but even so, passages from Evagrius such as those just quoted do give rise to a lively sense that hesychasm is at least non-imagistic in its theory and practice. God’s lack of qualities is a key principle of hesychast theology,6 as is the consequent affirmation that imagination is totally inadequate to God. Nikodimos himself makes the point directly: Know that God is plainly beyond every sensation and sensory things, and beyond each form and colour, dimension and place, because He is altogether formless and imageless and present everywhere and above all things; so He is beyond


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

all imagination. Consequently, know that imagination is a power of the soul by which it has no ability to unite with God since it has such inferior characteristics. (Nikodimos, 2007, p. 100 = Aoratos Polemos 1.26)7

Nikodimos even complements that theological assertion with a corresponding anthropological principle, when he echoes Maximus in asserting that God created Adam without giving Adam an imagination (‘chōris phantasian’: Nikodimos, 2007, p. 101 = Aoratos Polemos 1.26). As for Christology, Nikodimos again follows Maximus’ teaching that Christ (both perfect God and perfect human) had no imagination.8 If prayer is an immaterial movement towards an immaterial God, if God is beyond imagining, if the first created human had no imagination and if the God-man had no imagination, there would appear to be little place for images, visualization and contemplation to contribute to the hesychast life. Mental images and thematic or visual meditation are inherently problematical for hesychasm. On the other hand, as Nikodimos knew perfectly well, the iconographic tradition of Greek Christianity is incredibly rich and Greek churches have been replete with icons for centuries. Indeed, Nikodimos positively encourages his readers to immerse themselves in the traditional cult of Greek Orthodoxy. He provides specific guidance for what one should consider when regarding an icon of the Mother of God or icons of the saints (Nikodimos, 2007, p. 89 = Aoratos Polemos 1.23). He even recommends the contemplation of them: ‘Love to see the Churches, the holy icons, the holy books, the tombs, the cemeteries and other honourable and holy things, contemplation [theōria] of which benefits you’ (Nikodimos, 2007, p.  95  = Aoratos Polemos 1.24). This acknowledgement of icons – even as objects of meditation or contemplation – sits oddly with the emphasis on non-materiality in hesychasm. What place does the hesychast tradition allow for icons and for visual meditation? Nikodimos’ writings are an excellent resource for attempts to answer that question, precisely because he codified the hesychast tradition and promoted it in other writings. Before we come to Nikodimos’ writings, however, we should take into account details about his life that provide context for his work.

Life and formation Born into the devout and prosperous household of Anastasia and Anthony Kallibourtzis of Naxos in 1749 and given the name Nicholas at his baptism, our editor in his youth received his first formation in literacy and liturgy from his parish priest.9 Between 1765 and 1770, Nicholas Kallibourtzis relocated to Smyrna to study in the Evangelical School, where among other things he was grounded in Aristotelian philosophy and Orthodox theology, before his return to Naxos. In Naxos once more, Nicholas became secretary to Antimos Bardes, the metropolitan bishop of Paros and Naxos. After priestly ordination, Nicholas pursued advanced study and came into closer contact with Italians in general and Jesuits in particular. For Nicholas to have been exposed to Catholic culture on an Aegean island is no surprise. During the expansion of Italian interests that lead to the Fourth Crusade (1202–4), the Venetians established a ‘Duchy of the Archipelago,’

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incorporating Naxos with Marco Sanudo reigning as Duke (c. 1205–1207) (Gregory, 1991). Italian dominion in Naxos continued until 1566 and scattered redoubts of Venetian controls remained in the Aegean until roughly a generation before Nicholas’ birth. Furthermore, from the seventeenth century, with the permission of the ducal house, the Jesuits established a presence on Naxos and fraternized freely with Greeks as well as Latins, Orthodox as well as Catholics (Carayon, 1864, pp. 111–20). To this day, a large Catholic population remains in Naxos City. Thanks to various accommodations, Greek and Latin Christianity could co-exist harmoniously during the early modern period  – though of course outbreaks of hostility were hardly unknown (e.g. Ware, 1964, pp. 16–33). On Naxos, Nicholas became personally acquainted with three Athonite monks – Gregory, Niphon and Arsenios – who adhered to a movement that arose in 1754 on the Holy Mountain in St. Anne’s Skete. For reasons that need not detain us here,10 a group of monks there took the decision to offer the service for the dead (associated above all with a dish of sweetened boiled wheat, called kollyva) on a Sunday after the Divine Liturgy rather than on a Saturday. This modification to practice provoked serious arguments about tradition. Advocates of the new practice were dismissively called ‘Kollyvades’ by their opponents. As often happens, this term of abuse was worn with pride by the reforming monks. The debates spread out from Athos and developed as they did. Quickly, a fierce critique of the spread of Western culture and education became a stable feature of the Kollyvades’ cause; this counterbalanced their reforming assertion of an earlier, ‘authentically Greek’ tradition. The three Athonites whom Nicholas met on Naxos were Kollyvades, as were Makarios of Corinth and the monk Silvester of Caesarea, residing on nearby Hydra. (It is this Makarios who would eventually co-edit the Philokalia.) Under their combined influence, Nicholas went to the Athonite monastery Dionysiou in 1775, where he was tonsured a monk and given the name Nikodimos. Nikodimos was centrally involved in the Kollyvades cause, the agenda of which had by this time developed into a holistic attempt to revitalize the traditional Orthodox ethos: frequent participation in the sacraments of the Church and especially Holy Communion; strict adherence to traditional ecclesiastical ceremonial; greater acquaintance with the patristic, hesychast, and ascetic literature and spirituality; and an all-out struggle against the alienation of the Greeks from Orthodoxy because of various Western influences. (Makrides, 2000, p. 899)

The most enduringly important landmark in this effort was Nikodimos and Makarios’ aforementioned edition of a collection of classic ascetical texts (which already existed as an identifiable, if evolving, corpus: see Géhin, 2001): the Philokalia. In terms of the Kollyvades agenda, we can note that the writings of St. Gregory Palamas (c. 1296–14 November 1357) are central to the Philokalia (Rigo 2001) and that Palamas’ opponents were castigated for being ‘Latin-minded’ (Latinophrones). For this reason, the Philokalia culminates in the writings of Palamas recalling the debates contemporary to Nikodimos about the acceptability of Western learning in that those writings


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

are imbued with an earlier controversy understood in terms of opposing Byzantine experience to Western scholasticism. This implication is strengthened because it is not necessary for the promotion of hesychasm to endorse Palamas’ preferred theological categories for distinguishing God’s energies from God’s essence. For instance, Palamas’ contemporary, Gregory of Sinai, was an equally eloquent advocate of hesychast prayer and spirituality, but his writings lack the evidence of Palamas’ controversial theology. One can say more. There are in fact reasons to believe that at least one vocal critic of Palamite theology, who was anathematized for his troubles, was nevertheless favourably disposed towards Hesychastic practices.11 In other words, there is strong circumstantial evidence suggesting that the Philokalia was prepared within a climate of opposition to Latin theology and that its teaching is coloured by that opposition. Soon we will turn our attention to the characteristic features of that teaching with reference to practices of contemplation and meditation, as expressed in the Philokalia and elsewhere. But first we need to introduce other written works of Nikodimos. Nikodimos was a prolific author (Citterio, 2002, pp. 914–40). He compiled several handbooks for pastoral and liturgical use (Symbouleutikon encheiridion, 1781; Peri synechous metalēpseōs, 1783; Theotokarion, 1796; Heortodromion, 1836; Nea Klimax, 1844), monastic compendia (Philokalia, 1782), interpretations of the general epistles of the New Testament (Hermēneia eis tas hepta katholikas epistolas, 1806) and canon law (Pēdalion, 1800 – now a standard reference). He also prepared critical editions of earlier writings by Paul Evergetinos (The Collection  – frequently called simply Evergetinos, 1783), Simeon the New Theologian (Works, 1790), Barsanuphius and John (Letters, 1816), Theophylact of Bulgaria (Commentary on the Fourteen Letters of the Apostle Paul, 1819), Euthymius Zugabenus (Commentary on the 150 Psalms, 1819/1821), Gregory Palamas (Complete Works, unpublished owing to the loss of the script and the closure of the Press in Vienna) and Meletius the Confessor (Alphabetalphabetos, or Paradise, again unpublished, but this time happily not lost). Finally and for our purposes most interestingly, Nikodimos also publicized in Greek translation such mainstays of the Catholic Counter-Reformation as Il Confessore istruito and Il Penitente istruito by Paolo Segneri (1624–94), 1794; Il combattimento spirituale and Il sentiero del paradiso (or Della pace interiore) by the Theatine priest Lorenzo Scupoli (c. 1530–1610), 1796; and the Excercitia spiritualia by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), as translated into Italian and adapted by G. P. Pinamonti (1632–1703), 1800. Bearing in mind that the Kollyvades fathers were actively engaged in heated debate, it is unsurprising that not all of Nikodimos’ writings enjoyed universal and happy acceptance: his treatise Peri synechous metalēpseōs (On frequent communion) was condemned in 1785 by Patriarch Procopius but, since the treatise was published anonymously, Nikodimos did not suffer any disciplinary consequences (Citterio, 2002, p.  912). Nikodimos’ works were not restricted in their circulation to Mount Athos and other monasteries; his books generated what in contemporary British academic parlance is alarmingly called ‘public impact’. During the time he was maintaining this prodigious output of writing and editing, Nikodimos lived a modified solitary life and travelled regularly from one monastic site to another. From April 1809, Nikodimos’ health began to decline. His final months were spent in Karyes, the major settlement for administration in Athos. During the night of 14/15 July, Nikodimos died, with the

Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation


result that his liturgical commemoration as a saint has been observed on 14 July since 31 May 1955.

From Combattimento spirituale to Aoratos Polemos For Aoratos Polemos, Nikodimos relied on an earlier translation. Emmanuel Romanites, an Athonite monk originally from Crete, had initially translated Scupoli’s Combattimento spirituale into Greek12 (along with many of Segneri’s writings, such as his works on penance that Nikodimos republished as the Exomologētarion).13 To my knowledge, the translations by Romanites have not been edited and published, but it is doubtful whether Nikodimos would have prepared his versions without them. According to a detailed historical study of Naxos and environs during Nikodimos’ time, it is just possible that Nikodimos might have had a smattering of Italian and/or French – but not very likely (Phranghiskos, 2001). We cannot claim that Nikodimos himself translated the work and should be aware that he may have inherited from Romanites’ translations some discrepancies with respect to Scupoli’s text. Even so, Nikodimos’ decision to popularize Aoratos Polemos itself justifies attention to how that text varies from Combattimento spirituale. There are unmistakable omissions in the Greek text of doctrinally significant phrases by Scupoli. A good example is Scupoli’s use of punitive language when describing the expiation of sins and his references to Purgatory.14 Purgatory was a deeply contentious doctrine. The Greek Orthodox had rejected it for centuries and did so with special fervour after the doctrine was accepted by most Orthodox participants at the union council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–9), with the notable exception of Mark Eugenikos of Ephesus who resoundingly rejected the doctrine and was lionized upon his return.15 For that reason, it is quite unsurprising that Scupoli’s remarks on Purgatory were suppressed from the Modern Greek translations. Elsewhere in his discussion of Purgatory, Scupoli mentions Christ on the Cross offering himself to the Father.16 That reference is lost along with the mention of Purgatory. However, it is conspicuous that Aoratos Polemos retains a typically Catholic emphasis on the body, blood, soul, divinity and merits of Christ in the Eucharist.17 Nikodimos likewise preserves a prayer to the Father that invokes the merits of Christ  – an unusual theme in Orthodox prayers.18 Again, keeping with the Catholic ethos of the original text, Nikodimos indicates how one might propitiate God for one’s sins.19 He even preserves Scupoli’s description of the joys felt by ‘la Chiesa trionfante, e militante’ (the Church triumphant, and militant)20 and develops it splendidly, speaking of holēn tēn thriambeuousan en Ouranois kai tēn strateuomenēn Ekklēsian (the whole Church, which is triumphant in the heavens and is battling on earth).21 Other slight cultural transformations can be identified, as when ‘la cara imagine di Maria Vergine’ (the dear image of Mary the Virgin) becomes tēn eikona tēs Panagias (the icon of the All-holy).22 On occasion, Nikodimos expands a theme found in Scupoli’s text to intensify a teaching. For instance, Scupoli has much to say about disciplining the senses.23 But Nikodimos elaborates on Scupoli’s teaching at length, inserting a chapter entirely of his own in which he draws heavily on the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor, to explain


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

how the imagination and the memory should be corrected.24 This lengthy excursus interrupts Scupoli’s structure, which moves directly from advice about guarding one’s tongue to an account of how ‘Christ’s soldier’ should take great pains to avoid disturbances. Incorporating that theme with Scupoli’s emphasis on discipline and selfmortification, Nikodimos offers a brisk and characteristically Byzantine warning about the dangers of contemplating and speaking of God prematurely: Many ancients and contemporaries, wishing to contemplate and to speak about God and God’s simple, formless and unimaginable mysteries (where the soul’s highest power  – the mind  – functions) even before purifying the mind from impassioned forms and the imagination’s images of sensory things, have instead of truth found lies.25

Various physical disciplines, endorsed by Scupoli and by Nikodimos, enable Christians to moderate the dangers that sinful experiences will leave an imprint on the mind. There is, however, more to life than avoiding problems. Scupoli and Nikodimos both encourage certain activities that promote spiritual life. One positive step that can be taken is considering the universe as the handiwork of God26 – something known in the earlier monastic literature as ‘natural contemplation’, or the contemplation of nature. Contemplating the life of Christ is also recommended.27 These steps prepare the Christian to experience God directly. As Nikodimos explains: That we may actively perceive God’s urging must happen either through divine enlightenment and mental illumination, by which God’s will is revealed contemplatively to the pure, or through an inner inspiration by a word from God or through some other activity of divine grace acting in the pure heart – such as life-giving warmth, ineffable joy, spiritual exultation, compunction, heartfelt tears, divine love, and other God-loving and blessed feelings, which come not from our will but externally moved by God and experienced [by us]. . . .28

Such powerful descriptions of affective spiritual experiences represent a conspicuous contribution to the hesychast tradition. It seems that Nikodimos’ teachings acquire some of the flavour of Scupoli’s richly emotive advice.

Hesychastic prayer as meditation As Nikodimos’ writings disclose, the prayerful habits of the hesychastic monks were understood as the optimal functioning of the human creature as an integrated psychosomatic entity. The body and the mind (or nous), with its seat in the heart, are both attuned through disciplines of ascetic attention. Indeed, Evagrius’ On prayer describes the possibility that agents of disintegration (the demons or the thoughts of vice, terms used interchangeably) are able to manipulate the veins near the brain and thus to generate mental illusions that undermine spiritual progress.29 To counteract this danger, the hesychasts sought to ‘re-centre’ the energies and intentions of the mind

Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation


within the body, by bringing the mind to rest in the heart.30 These practices, and the anthropological theories underlying them, have elicited numerous and seemingly casual comparisons to yoga. The distinctive, curved posture during prayer that optimized the success of ‘bringing the mind to the heart’ (in hesychast terms) were lampooned by the critics of hesychasm who jeered their opponents as ‘omphalopsychoi’ – men with their souls in their stomachs or, tweaking the translation to achieve a modern idiom, navel-gazers. Along with the regimens for diet and sleep that accompanied them, these characteristic physical postures and breathing exercises address the physical basis of the human person. In the Philokalia, Nikiphoros the Monk briefly outlines the preferred posture and breathing in these terms: Seat yourself, then, concentrate your intellect, and lead it into the respiratory passage through which your breath passes into your heart. Put pressure on your intellect and compel it to descend with your inhaled breath into your heart. Once it has entered there, what follows will be neither dismal nor glum. Just as a man, after being far away from home, on his return is overjoyed at being with his wife and children again, so the intellect, once it is united with the soul, is filled with indescribable delight.31

Without intending an injustice against this system by artificially separating aspects of life that hesychasm seeks to integrate, we need here to focus our attention on the psychological disciplines of the life, for it is in this arena that instructions about prayer, about the movements of the mind and their cultivation, about mental images and ultimately about meditation and contemplation, come to the fore. We can (and will) note that there are some indications that contributors to the Philokalia prescribed meditative practices, but even so (as we said at the beginning) the overwhelming trend within hesychasm is away from any form of contemplation towards unmediated contact with God. In many cases, it is far from clear whether techniques of visualization and imagination have any place at all in hesychast practice, and even where those techniques are legitimated it is far from clear when their use is appropriate. There are, however, precedents for acknowledging the value of imagining and visualizing as a support for the process of hesychast prayer. Take, for instance, Mark the Monk’s To Nicholas. In his letter of direction to an otherwise unknown Nicholas, Mark the Monk repeatedly encourages his recipient to remember – even ‘to keep in heart’ – the innumerable benefits that God has conferred: ‘You should, with indelible memory, and ever mindful of giving it your unceasing attention, recollect for yourself all the things that God, in his love for humankind, has done for you, and all the special dispensations and benefits he is giving you now for the salvation of your soul.’32 Mark advises Nicholas to contemplate positive aspects in the history of salvation. He also expounds at some length on the value of meditating on the humility of Christ.33 Even meditation on a visual form can support the hesychast life, if we can depart from the Philokalia briefly in order to adapt the lessons from a letter written by Hypatius, archbishop of Ephesus (531–c. 538), to his subordinate bishop, Julian of Atrymitius.34 Julian removed icons from his church because he was concerned that the laity was


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

treating them idolatrously. In response, Hypatius discloses that he ‘takes no delight’ in icons and strongly suggests that spiritually advanced Christians can dispense with them (Diekamp, 1938, pp.  128.2–3). But he disapproves of Julian’s actions, because Hypatius considered icons a possible way forward so that those who view them might come ‘to noetic beauty’ (Diekamp, 1938, pp. 128.28). Hypatius places great emphasis on the importance of perceiving the noetic and immaterial light of the Divinity (Diekamp, 1938, pp. 128.29–30). This connection means that, for Hypatius, there is no opposition between icons (which lead to ‘noetic beauty’) and the perception of ‘the noetic and immaterial light of the Divinity’. In fact, icons considered properly by the faithful lead them towards God. Contemplating the images, the believer is progressively introduced into the contemplation of the Divine Being. Whether or not this reading of Hypatius’ letter to Julian is accepted, unambiguous evidence of an ordered sequence for techniques of contemplation is found in a work by St. Gregory of Sinai (c. 1265–1346) that appears in the Philokalia. Gregory identifies eight ‘principal forms of contemplation’ as follows: 1. The first is contemplation of the formless, unoriginate and uncreated God – that is, contemplation of the one Triadic deity that transcends all being. 2. The second is contemplation of the hierarchy and order of the spiritual powers. 3. The third is contemplation of the structure of created beings. 4. The fourth is contemplation of God’s descent through the incarnation of the Logos. 5. The fifth is contemplation of the universal resurrection. 6. The sixth is contemplation of the dread second coming of Christ. 7. The seventh is contemplation of age-long punishment. 8. The eighth is contemplation of the kingdom of heaven. Next Gregory categorizes these forms of contemplation in these terms: The first four pertain to what has already been manifested and realized. The second four pertain to what is in store and has not yet been manifested; but they are clearly contemplated by and disclosed to those who through grace have attained great purity of intellect.

Finally, he makes a robust defence of these forms of contemplation that includes a startling claim that anyone who attacks them is susceptible to fantasies generated by demonic delusion: Whoever without such grace attempts to descry them should realize that far from attaining spiritual vision he will merely become the prey of fantasies, deceived by and forming illusions in obedience to the spirit of delusion.35

If we take Gregory’s list in reverse order, we can identify in it a ladder for contemplative progress. It begins with a desire for heaven, an avoidance of punishment, a fear of judgement and a hope for resurrection  – all fairly clearly motivated by self-serving

Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation


instincts, in addition (as Gregory himself notes) as being events anticipated for the future. The second grouping of forms of contemplation (which, as Gregory notes, ‘pertain to what has already been manifested and realized’) are occupied with the Incarnation of the Word of God, with the physical order of creation – long since called ‘natural contemplation’ in monastic literature – with the spiritual order of creation, and ultimately with the Holy Trinity. Gregory’s list provides a helpful context for Nikodimos’ teaching in that it provides a clear place for meditation on events, persons and themes of religious significance no less than for ‘contemplation of the one Triadic deity that transcends all being’. In so doing, it allows for meditative practices that incorporate the emotions and visualizations without which contemplating, for instance, ‘age-long’ (or ‘eternal’) punishment would be merely an intellectual exercise. One sees in his curriculum for meditation a clear trajectory along which fear and hope are gradually attenuated as love for God becomes the pre-eminent motivation for spiritual life. Even so, if we read the passage from his On Commandments and Doctrines as simply an idealized description of interest to the scholar, we may be left with an apprehension that progress in the disciplines as he describes it is somehow linear and cumulative – again, like climbing a ladder. That is, it appears to leave little room for cycles and rhythms of distraction, for the exigencies of feelings, and for the intrusion of the unanticipated. However, the spiritual terrain traversed by the hesychasts (as abundant references to temptations, wayward thoughts and demonic infiltrations indicate) is densely populated and in fact dangerous. Whether or not the agency of spiritual beings is something that the modern reader recognizes, it is imperative for us to take seriously that the writings we are considering here are by design providing practical guidance that the authors expect to be put to use. They buttress a way of living that aspires to an integration of thoughts, emotions, responses and actions. Any initial impression of inevitable progress through the repetition of prescribed prayers and bodily disciplines must therefore be qualified by the awareness that the monastic guides whose writings Nikodimos propagated had a very lively awareness of the possibilities of backsliding, of faltering resolve, of unforeseen circumstances, of doubt and turmoil in the spiritual life. In this context, it is interesting that Nikodimos makes allowances for employing visualization and imagination when confronted by unexpected passions. He writes: And if you are not accustomed, beloved, to fight against sudden movements and the provocations of insults or any other clashes that befall you, I advise you to do this: sitting in your home, make it your practice to think in advance [promeletas] that insults, dishonours, and often wounds and other clashes may befall you: and thus you will be prepared so that you will not be upset but without delay will endure them with thanksgiving.36

Cultivating an intense aversion to ‘impulses of the lower, sensory, and passionate will’ is something that Nikodimos had endorsed earlier and builds upon here,37 though he does stipulate that such practices should not be used in combating lust lest too much consideration generate fresh distractions.38 When ordered and subjected to the


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

discipline of hesychast living, emotions and basic impulses can be harnessed and thus used to carry the spiritual life forward. And contemplation of visual images as well as imagined episodes from personal history or the collective memory of the Church can also help the hesychast’s efforts to acquire ‘an attitude of listening to God and of openness to him’. These practices of contemplation, meditation and even imagination are allocated a specifiable place within the hesychast’s repertoire of spiritual practices, to be used not only in early phases but also as occasion demands.

Conclusions Nikodimos of Mt. Athos played a key role in modern Orthodox Christianity, chiefly through his contributions to the Kollyvades movement. A quiet reformation within Orthodox Christianity, that movement promoted a return to earlier sources and Nikodimos’ considerable labours made major texts from former periods available to facilitate that return ‘ad fontes’. The goal of the project as a whole was immediate communion with the Trinity. Accordingly, the Kollyvades fathers encouraged customs of prayer and living that had over long centuries emerged and were recognized as hesychasm. Because that tradition developed gradually and (by and large) anonymously, it did not always evolve evenly. For example, guidance pertaining to visualization and integrating iconography within hesychast disciplines of prayer was largely inchoate until relatively recent times. The Orthodox affirmation  – explicitly embraced by hesychasts – that God has no qualities gives rise to a lively tension about images and imaginations, in terms of which the practical experiences of prayer and the theological orientation of prayer were not always harmonious. An anecdote related by John Cassian – regrettably not included in the Philokalia, but no less indicative of the Desert Fathers than his other works that were excerpted into that great anthology – illustrates the vast danger of good practice coupled with defective theology: an elderly monk named Serapion relied for his prayers on visualizing God the Father and clinging to the image thus visualized, which (Cassian relates) rendered years of Serapion’s praying not just void but positively harmful.39 Images are fraught and ambiguous. For all their precision and clarity, the theological formulae that emerged from the iconoclast controversies did not relieve all the ambiguities that images and icons generate, even for deeply traditional Orthodox Christians. The theological premises are themselves adequate to answer charges about idolatry, but the practical implementation of icons and mental images within the hesychast life is less clear. In this situation, Nikodimos’ adaptation and popularization of Lorenzo Scupoli’s Combattimento Spirituale performed a valuable service. Scupoli wrote within a culture that had not experienced the crises of Byzantine iconoclasm. Advice about meditation, about images, about imagination and about emotional engagement with the process comes easily in the Combattimento Spirituale. We have already had occasion to note instances where Nikodimos’ Ho Aoratos Polemos adapts the Combattimento Spirituale for application by an Orthodox reader pursuing hesychia. But we have also seen that Nikodimos leaves in place (and even sometimes augments) encouragements to meditate and to cultivate feelings, occasionally with

Imageless Prayer and Imagistic Meditation


recourse to mental images. Nikodimos’ teaching draws from earlier, almost furtive indications about training the soul for spiritual combat, but it also draws from the guidance offered by a Theatine priest for the benefit of Italian Catholics. As a result, Nikodimos’ Ho Aoratos Polemos speaks with freshness to perennial concerns. Catalysed as it would appear by a foreign work of spiritual writing and with a measure of boldness, Nikodimos guarantees a place within hesychast practices for meditating on the natural order, on the life of Christ and his virgin mother, on the sacred symbols of Orthodox Christianity and on God – all of which leads to contemplative, prayerful communion with ‘the formless, unoriginate and uncreated God’.

Part IV



Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer Jamal J. Elias

University of Pennsylvania

The dominant form of Islamic meditation is Sufi dhikr, a recitative practice displaying great variety, presented by Jamal J. Elias with particular reference to early material within the Kubrawi order of Sufism. Elias argues that dhikr is located in between meditation and prayer, and it also has strong ritual elements. Its main recitative meditation object is the credo (There is no god but God) or the name of God or just a pronoun referring to God. The recitation may be vocal and audible or completely silent, the former often for beginners, the latter for more advanced students. In the Kubrawi material it is mainly a solitary practice, while in other orders it is often communal. It may be practised in cave retreats or in everyday life. As in Judaic and Christian meditation, recitation is often combined with visualization and imagination (in particular ‘journeying’), in the Sufi case also with music. The practice is intimately linked with breath, body postures, body movements and the placement of the meditation object in various bodily locations. There is a notion of a subtle (nonphysical) body, especially of the mystical heart. The Sufi master plays a central role in ascertaining the correctness of the practice. Dhikr is highly concentrative, especially for the beginner. Distracting thoughts are to be banished, and the correctness and forcefulness of the practice are emphasized. At the same time, the light of love is also a central component along the way. The transformation these techniques bring about is assumed to go through a number of stages, each characterized by certain visions and colours. The eventual aim is a perfection built on the annihilation of the self in the name of God.

The parameters of ritually obligatory prayer in Islam (salāt or namāz) were formalized very early in the development of the religion. However, salāt does not represent the only form of Muslim prayer, nor even the only ritual one. Dhikr (or zikr) constitutes one of the most important examples of prayer; as a broad-ranging ritual, it brings contemplative and meditative elements together with somatic practice, including the use of music and dance. In this paper, I will limit my discussion of dhikr to the place it occupies in classical and medieval Sufi writing and exercises, focusing


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

primarily on the Kubrawi Sufi tradition of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the process, I will argue that this most famous of Muslim meditational practices occupies a place between meditation and prayer and is conceived of by participants in the tradition as such.1 The word dhikr means ‘recollection’, ‘remembrance’ or ‘mentioning’. For Sufis, it normally comprises the repetition of a formula, the ostensible goal of which is to advance the practitioner along a process of spiritual self-perfection. Although, in the narrowest sense, it is this ritual practice that is termed dhikr, the ritual is inseparable from a wider tradition of practice that comprises personal comportment, formal relationships with masters and peers and other important aspects of religion. The practice of dhikr is justified in terms of several Qur’anic usages of the word. There are at least seven instances where the Arabic verb dhakara is used in its imperative form with specific reference to God or one of His attributes. Of these, ‘Oh you who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance’ (Q. 33.31) is cited often by Sufis as a justification for dhikr.2 Several works from the eleventh century onward give a variety of Qur’anic references to justify the practice and supplement them with evidence from accounts of the Prophet’s life (hadith). These Qur’anic references do not provide any clear sense of what the word means; if anything, these appear to be general exhortations to prayer rather than to a specific ritual or practice, and early Sufis often are equally non-specific about what they mean by the use of the term. The Egyptian Sufi Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari (d. 1309)  provides a succinct description, which is representative of many Sufis of his time: ‘Dhikr is the purification from heedlessness and neglect through the continued abiding of the heart with God.’ He goes on to say: [It is] the repetition of the recollected name (al-’ism al-madhkūr) by the heart and the tongue. This may be in the form of the remembrance of God or of one of the attributes, or one of his commands, or one of his actions, or evidence (istadlāl) of one of these things; or [it may be] a prayer, or remembrance of his messengers, his prophets, his saints (awliya’), or one who is attached to him, or near to him in some form or another or some cause or action. It is [in the form of] recitation (qirā’a) or remembrance (dhikr) or verse, or song, or lecture (muḥāḍara), or a story (ḥikāya).3

The ritual varies widely across Sufi traditions and even with specific Sufi orders. It can be done either in solitude or collectively, and although the two forms are presented in many written sources as being equally valid, advancement from one to the other often serves as a badge marking progress along the Sufi path. Many writers differentiate between silent dhikr (in the sense of dhikr performed silently) and inner recollection, the primary marker of this difference lying in the issue of consciousness or self-awareness as distinct from that of intentionality. Silent dhikr is similar to vocal dhikr in that both of them require conscious effort and are understood as a form of petitioning or prayer. Inner recollection detaches the Sufi from his or her awareness of the act of dhikr.4 This form of inner recollection is superior in that the recollector performs her exercise without any consciousness of herself or any other besides God.

Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer


Hujwiri (d. 1077), one of the earliest systematizers of Sufi doctrine, quotes a saying of al-Wasiti (d. 932) to underline this view: ‘Those who remember their praise of God (dhikr) are more heedless than those who forget their praise.’5 Another early writer on Sufism, al-Kalabadhi (d. 1001) lists several classes of recollection illustrating the gradual extinction of all consciousness until the Sufi becomes detached even from the recollection itself: The first is the recollection of the heart, meaning that the One recollected is previously forgotten, and then remembered; the second is the recollection of the qualities of the One remembered; the third is the contemplation of the qualities of the One remembered. By this last, a man passes away from recollection: for the qualities of the One remembered cause you to pass away from your own qualities, and so you pass away from recollection.6

Varieties of Dhikr Perhaps due to its greater efficacy as a communal ritual, vocal dhikr appears to have been common as a practice among formal Sufi orders, normally following a strict programme of recitation involving eulogies of departed shaykhs and of Muḥammad, Qur’anic verses and prayers specific to the order. The major portion of the dhikr ritual performance involves the chanting of a prescribed formula, in many cases the name ‘Allah’, or simply its last syllable ‘hu’, in conjunction with a formal pattern of breathing and body movement. In the practice of the Shadhili order followed by the aforementioned Ibn ‘Ata Allah, dhikr, like all Muslim ritual actions, must be preceded by formal intention (niyya). The Sufi should sit cross-legged (in tarabbu‘) with his or her hands resting on the knees, eyes closed or only slightly open, facing into the circle (ḥalqa) if she is with other members of the Sufi order, or facing the direction of Mecca if she is alone. She should find a quiet location, be perfumed and be wearing ritually pure clothing.7 Each of these recommendations serves a purpose: sitting cross-legged has the external effect of maintaining constancy and ritual purity and also signifies an inner equilibrium. Hands are placed on the knees to reinforce externally the force exerted by the meditation on one’s inner being and also to signify and sustain the inner disposition which ‘consists of applying the hands of sincerity and purity of intention to the two supports that are the Qur’an and the tradition of Muḥammad’.8 One closes one’s eyes in order to assist in ridding one’s inner self of the distractions of sensation and to close the inner and outer eyes to everything other than God. In a passage copied almost verbatim by Ibn ‘Ata Allah from the eponymous founder of the Kubrawi Sufi order, Najm al-din Kubra (d. 1221), Ibn ‘Ata Allah says: Dhikr is a fire which neither abides nor spreads. When it enters an abode it says: ‘It is I and no other!’ and this is the meaning of lā ilāha illa’llāh. If there is wood in [the abode] it [the dhikr] burns it; if there is darkness it becomes light, [the dhikr’s] light; and if there is light in it, it becomes light upon light.9


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Some of the most specific and illustrative descriptions of the nature and purpose of dhikr are found in the Sufi tradition called the Kubrawiyya, particularly in the first two centuries of its development. Among the many Kubrawi authors who wrote about Sufi ritual and practice, ‘Ala’ al-dawla Simnani (d. 1336) stands out both for his prolific writing and for the specificity of his instructions and descriptions. According to Simnani, the Sufi pursuit of self-perfection is best undertaken in a form of seclusion (khalwa) that involves isolation of the heart from all that is other than God, and attachment to Him, thereby reaching Him and being near unto Him.10 An individual succeeds in attaining progress along the various stages of the Sufi path through the pursuit of specific exercises undertaken in seclusion, and refines the ‘subtle substance of I-ness’ to the point of being a perfect mirror for God. This seclusion is particularly difficult when one first practices it, because at this stage the Sufi wages a war against the lower soul and Satan.11 In light of the importance of seclusion in his Sufi vision, it is not surprising that Simnani devotes much attention to its nature and requirements. He lists eight principles of seclusion normally attributed to Junayd al-Baghdadi (d. 910), although he adds two items to the list on occasion.12 In fact, his requirements and method of dhikr are based closely on those of the important Kubrawi master, Najm al-din Daya-i Razi as spelled out in his influential book, the Mirṣād al-‘ibād min al-mabda’ ila’l-ma‘ād:13 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Controlling the external senses Maintaining a continual state of ritual purity Continual fasting Continual silence Continual repetition of the formula ‘There is no god but God’ Continual banishing of distracting thoughts Fixing the heart totally on the Sufi guide Ceasing to raise objections to God

Although seclusion is ultimately an interior process through which one isolates oneself from everything except God, it also consists of physical withdrawal from society. According to Simnani, this must occur in a cell (bayt al-khalwa), which should only be large enough for one person to pray in, and should be windowless to prevent sunlight from entering it.14 Such sensory isolation helps achieve the goal of controlling the external senses. In fact, in order to maximize the effects of seclusion, the Sufi should not exit the cell except to perform ritual prayers, answer the call of nature and renew his state of ritual purity.15 Maintaining a continual state of ritual purity, fasting and silence also serve to control the external senses with the ultimate goal of subduing the lower soul, which retains its innate appetitive disposition even after the individual has advanced along the Sufi path.16 This appetitive soul is not destroyed by spiritual annihilation (fanā’) but simply fragments, retaining its virulence. It is only in physical death that it can be exterminated.17 For the novice Sufi, the best way to combat the soul is to engage in ascetic practices such as abstaining from food, speech and sleep.18 Simnani refers to this as being cruel

Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer


to one’s soul, denying the soul its due and satisfaction, except for the minimal amount needed to sustain the body, since anything more only increases its eagerness to persist in its base nature.19 Ritual purity also helps combat the lower soul and serves as armour in the war against baser desires and Satan.20 The emphasis in Simnani’s writings is on inner purification, which, unlike external ablutions that cleanse the body off physical impurities, consists of having an attentive heart and a tongue busy with recollection.21 In fact, the entire Sufi quest can be seen as a process of inner purification, called the greater cleansing, which parallels the attainment of levels along the Sufi path. The novice practitioner attains the purification specific to physical manifestation or theophany in the physical realm (al-tajallī al-ṣuwarī), the intermediate that of the manifestation of light, the advanced that of spiritual manifestation or theophany in the unseen realm (al-tajallī al-ma‘nawī). The spiritual pole (quṭb) is subjected to experiential manifestation of the divine (al-tajallī al-dhawqī), which only occurs after the destruction of the physical body.22 A major purpose of seclusion for Simnani is to engage in dhikr, thereby cleansing oneself to the point of being the perfect witness of God. Continual silence is one of the conditions of seclusion, and is useful in negating the outer senses and combating the lower soul. The only mitigating circumstance in which the Sufi may break this silence and exit the cell is to consult his or her master for advice concerning the meaning of experiences undergone during dhikr or in dream visions. Even so, it is better to try and seek the master’s guidance in a visionary or imaginal realm than to seek him face to physical face.23 The next condition of seclusion is the continued banishing of all thoughts, be they good or bad, since the inner senses cannot be controlled without the banishing of thought. The Sufi must acknowledge the master as the explainer of visions and Sufi states and should not attempt to understand them on his own.24 For Simnani dhikr is the primary method through which one succeeds in banishing all thought and controlling the inner senses, and consequently he describes its techniques and meaning in great detail.

The rules of Dhikr According to Simnani’s dhikr practice, the Sufi should sit cross-legged facing the direction of prayer (qibla ) and should start by reciting a prayer: ‘Allah! There is no god but Him! On Him do I rely, and He is the Lord of the majestic throne. O my Lord! I seek refuge with you from the goadings of the demons, and seek refuge from the lord whom they attend.’25 After this he must say the credal formula (shahāda) three times, then envision his Sufi guide in his heart as if the master were present before him. It is only then that the actual dhikr can commence. The ideal formula for recollection is the first half of the Muslim credal statement: ‘There is no god but God (lā ilāha illā Allāh).’ This should be uttered in four beats: (1) With all her strength, the Sufi should exhale the ‘lā (no)’ from above the navel, (2) She should then inhale the ‘ilāha (god)’ to the right side of


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

the breast, (3) then exhale the ‘illā (except)’ from the right side to the left (4) and then inhale the ‘Allāh’ to the physical heart on the left side of the breast. This causes the energy of the word ‘Allāh’ to reach the heart and burn all desires contained therein. From the heart, a window opens to the real spiritual heart and from here the light of faith shines forth, illuminating the inner spiritual realm.26 While engaging in dhikr the Sufi must draw her eyes upwards towards the eyebrows so that she can observe the manner in which the daily dhikr practice ascends from the level of the stomach to that of the liver, from there to the physical heart, on to the head and from here it rises to the real, or mystical, heart.27 It is imperative that the Sufi attempt to control his breath and concentrate on its rhythms so that he is engaged in dhikr in each moment and with every breath. He acquires a new level of enlightenment with each new breath, because every breath has a right over him just as he has rights over each breath. His right from breath is life, whereas the right of the breath over him is the recollection of God through which he acquires knowledge of the divine attributes and essence.28 Simnani differentiates between audible and silent recollection and firmly maintains the superiority of the latter, going so far as to state that audible, outward dhikr is forbidden both on religious and intellectual grounds, quoting several verses of the Qur’an as well as prophetic traditions in support of his position.29 He also lists ten intellectual proofs supporting the superiority of silent dhikr: 1. Seclusion controls the external senses so that the inner senses might develop; audible dhikr does not aid in repressing the external sense of hearing. 2. Breath control is primarily obtained through inner light; this cannot be attained through audible dhikr. 3. Sincerity is required in all religious practices; audible dhikr results in showmanship which overshadows sincerity. 4. Complete obliteration of desire is necessary on the Sufi path for the dhikr to reach the heart; this desire cannot be destroyed except with the heat of strong, silent dhikr reaching the spiritual heart. On the contrary audible dhikr allows most of the heat to escape through the mouth, preventing the Sufi from advancing on the path. 5. Audible dhikr confounds the brain and confuses the intellect. 6. Audible dhikr functions as an intoxicant for the soul and causes true audition of the dhikr to be overwhelmed by appetites. 7. Audible dhikr confuses the heart during divine conversation (munājāt), prayer and when the Sufi is present with God. 8. Unlike audible dhikr, silent dhikr is the opening of the door to the unseen. 9. Audible dhikr causes the Sufi to behave inappropriately in the presence of God and makes him or her deserving of punishment. 10. Audible dhikr prevents the practitioner from truly hearing the recollection of the Recollected (i.e. God) who is the ultimate goal of the recollector.30 I have translated al-dhikr al-jahrī as audible rather than vocal dhikr in order to avoid confusion regarding the various levels of dhikr that are mentioned by Simnani. In

Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer


addition to audible dhikr, he refers to a form of silent dhikr, generally called the strong, silent dhikr of the tongue (al-dhikr al-lisānī al-qawī al-khafī), but occasionally also referred to as the bodily dhikr of the tongue (al-dhikr al-lisānī al-qālabī). This form of recollection is similar to audible dhikr in that it is external and requires the conscious attention of the recollector as it flows over the tongue. However, unlike audible dhikr, the silent recollection of the tongue is inaudible, and does not distract the Sufi from his or her quest in the manner mentioned above with regard to audible dhikr.31 Vocal dhikr, or recollection of the tongue (al-dhikr al-lisānī), is best for Sufis at early stages of their practice because it gets rid of spiritual impurities caused by preoccupation with worldly acquisition. One can only be delivered from these preoccupations through a process of purification consisting of the strong, silent and vocal recollection of the credal profession of faith (shahāda).32 Although this form of dhikr is to be practiced silently, great care should be taken in its repetition. The formula should be said forcefully and all syllables must be pronounced properly, because its efficacy derives from correct pronunciation.33 In the early stages of Sufi practice, when the practitioner is still easily distracted by his desires, he must concentrate on the practice of recollection. At this stage he must consciously occupy himself with the banishing of passions, and that can only be accomplished through the negation of all volition and the affirmation of God as the master of volition in this world and the next.34 One purpose of consciously engaging in dhikr is to avoid making religion an automatic or habitual act since, Simnani states, true worship consists of the abandonment of habit; claiming to be a believer but ignoring the true nature of religion by turning it into something that is habitual or inherited is reprehensible.35 ‘Strive so that you are present in recollection, humble in recitation, submissive in your obedience to [God], as if you were listening to the Qur’an from God and recollecting him as if you were sitting in his presence.’36 Although such constant attention is necessary at the early stages of practising dhikr, eventually the Sufi should reach a level where he loses awareness both of the dhikr and of himself. It is through this loss of self-awareness that the Sufi attains the essence of the reality of certitude (ḥaqīqa ḥaqq al-yaqīn).37 Simnani mentions three kinds of recollection that are hierarchical in nature, such that a Sufi progresses from one to the next over the course of travelling the Sufi path. The first is the repetition of the formula lā ilāha illā Allāh in the manner outlined above. This form of recollection belongs in the physical or human realm (‘ālam-i nāsūt), because inhabitants of this realm believe in the existence of a multitude of deities and are veiled from the ‘God of gods and Lord of lords’. The negation of deities and the affirmation of the sole existence of Allah contained in this dhikr formula helps deliver novice Sufis from polytheism.38 The second form of recollection belongs to the Realm of Sovereignty (‘ālam-i malakūt) and consists solely of the name ‘Allah’. The name of God is sufficient at this stage, because, in the absence of any plurality in the Realm of Sovereignty, there is no need for the negation of other deities.39 The third formula of recollection belongs to the Realm of Omnipotence (‘ālam-i jabarūt) and consists simply of the word ‘huwa (he)’.40 While engaging in dhikr, the Sufi undergoes a series of experiences that constitute a systematic annihilation of the self, and sees a progression of colours and visions that function as signs or milestones marking


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

advancement on the path. Simnani describes these Sufi visionary experiences in such vivid detail that they constitute one of his major contributions to Sufi thought.

Simnani’s hierarchy of visions and colours Simnani often uses the metaphor of light to explain the function of dhikr along the Sufi path. A light known as the light of love appears through the process of recollection; however, if elements of physical human existence remain in the individual, smoke accompanies this light and obstructs the Sufi from it. The only way to dissipate this smoke is with the light of Muḥammad; through following him and performing the fundamental ritual requirements of prayer, fasting and so on, the divine secrets that are in the ‘treasure house of the heart’ are revealed to the Sufi.41 According to Simnani, when a Sufi engages in dhikr, she produces the light of recollection within herself and sees various colours according to her degree of advancement. As she progresses through a hierarchy of seven subtle substances (laṭā’if), the flow of light increases, as does the purity of its colours.42 The colours that appear to the Sufi in the beginning are from the Realm of Sovereignty, constituting the colours of the Sufi states. The lights that shine in the heart of the Sufi in the intermediate stage are the lights of the Realm of Omnipotence. The secrets that descend upon the subtle substance of I-ness and manifest themselves to the inmost being are from the Realm of Divinity.43 The Sufi must traverse the climes of the seven hierarchical subtle substances of the mystical body as a process of removing a succession of curtains, each of which has a colour specific to it. In ascending order from the physical realms, the first curtain is dark and turbid; the second curtain, that of the soul, is blue on the outside and green on the inside; the third is red; the fourth white and very fine; the fifth yellow and the sixth a luminescent black of the utmost clarity. The final curtain belongs to the realm of the subtle substance of the ‘real’ (al-laṭīfa al-ḥaqqiyya) and is either green or else is of pure light, having no colour on account of its extreme purity, brilliance and majesty.44 After the removal of these seven curtains (each of which is comprised of 70,000 veils), the Sufi reaches the greatest veil (ḥijāb-i kibriyā’) which cannot be traversed by practice but only through an act of God in the form of an overwhelming spiritual experience (jadhba) that transports the Sufi to the divine presence.45 Simnani devoted an entire treatise to the description of the colours and visionary experiences that Sufis undergo in their quest for perfection. Known both as Risāla-yi nūriyya and Risālat al-anwār, this treatise is poetic and allegorical, yet it systematically conveys the most salient features of visionary Sufi experiences encountered along the Sufi path.46 As laid out by Simnani in this work, when the Sufi turns his face from the visible dimension of the physical realm, he should also turn away from the visible dimension of the spiritual realm and face the invisible of the spiritual realm. The first curtain that appears before him is turbid until he strikes the stone of his heart with the flint of the credal formula ‘lā ilāha illā Allāh’. Suddenly, the hidden fire that is placed in him becomes apparent, and he stands in the fireplace of the soul (ḥarrāqa-yi nafs). He feeds this hidden fire with the firewood of the body until it becomes ignited and

Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer


that turbid curtain is transformed to dark blue. As he dries the firewood of existence and the remaining pieces or morsels of delight, the colours become purer and the smoke decreases. When the morsels are purified, no smoke remains, and a pleasant odour reaches the nose. In addition, colourful lights appear, and one has visions of spiritual people. All of the above experiences result from the blessing of the strength of recollection and from guarding the morsel from the moisture of sensual delight.47 Depending on the intensity of the fire of dhikr, the colours can vary between red, white, yellow, black and blue. It is even possible for the essence of the fire of dhikr to come out from behind the curtain and shout: ‘I am everything (hama manam).’ It is imperative that the practitioner not become arrogant as a consequence of these visions, because they only represent the beginning of the path, and arrogance prevents one from advancing to higher stages.48 According to Simnani, in the early stages of purifying the heart, the Sufi sometimes sees the tablet of his heart blackened with different patterns (nuqūsh); then he sees that it has been wiped clean and purified of these images. After this he observes it completely covered with the word ‘Allāh’; then the tablet is polished clean and only the name of God remains. After this he sees that this name is written with an ink of red light, then with white light and then with green. Finally he sees a tablet of light that has neither colour nor images upon it; then the signs of direct knowledge of the divine (al-‘ilm al-ladunī) appear upon it, marking advancement to the next stage.49 The next light is that of the spirit, and the lower soul is weakened and the heart strengthened by seeing it. At the appearance of the subsequent light – that of mystery – the Sufi is annihilated by the fear of seeing it.50 The practitioner must abandon all her supererogatory religious practices in order to make transcending this level easier.51 She should avoid physical exercises and vocal recollection at this point, because they are simply a means for reaching this state.52 In addition to abandoning non-essential religious practices, she must not incline herself towards the jewels that lie in the dark light of this stage, but should travel forward with determined steps and a strong heart. Dreadful forms and sounds are experienced at this level, but she should not fear them and should allow the light of mystery to become apparent, thereby transforming fear into intimacy. When she has fulfilled the requirements of this stage, an absolute light, which is a particular attribute of God, is manifested, the colour of which is green, signifying the verdant tree of existence.53 Absolute light (nūr-i muṭlaq) is manifested only in paradise and is accompanied by certain effects. First the Sufi experiences her own annihilation. After that she experiences visions of eschatological events such as the splitting of the sky, transformation of the earth, flying of the mountains, the changed rising of the sun and the moon, judgement of accounts, being thrown into the abyss and being lifted up in levels. When the Sufi sees these signs, she should know herself to be in paradise, and she should pay complete attention to the beauty of God’s presence, so that the holy essence (dhāt-i muqaddas) may be manifested, illuminating the true nature of everything that the Sufi has seen before.54 The light of God is exalted above everything and has no similitude. It is manifested above the head and annihilates the Sufi at its first appearance. The light of the spirit is brighter than the sun, and is normally manifested behind the back although sometimes


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

it appears from the left and right. The lights of other levels appear variously in front of the Sufi, to either side or surrounding him. Simnani describes some lights in very graphic terms, as resembling a polished door or window on which the sun is shining and from which the reflection is falling on the wall, or as resembling a candle, lamp or lantern, or else as permeating all parts of his body, such that he sees himself like illuminated water. Specific visions encountered during dhikr function as diagnostic markers for progress on the path. Sparks of fire that the Sufi sees in the beginning are signs of having traversed the element of the fire of one’s own existence. Flying through the air is a sign of passing the element of air. Swimming in the sea or in rivers, and walking on water are signs of the Sufi passing the element of water. Levitating above streets, houses and walls is a sign of having traversed the earthy portion of oneself. Each time the various parts of the Sufi’s body are purified of the darkness of appetitive pleasures, pure, swiftly moving and beautifully coloured fires become visible, as do clean, bright air, illuminated waters, wide streets, clean and majestic palaces, beautiful carpets and wonderful feasts.55 But if parts of the Sufi’s body are soiled by selfish desires, he sees the opposite of this, such as frightening, slow-moving, smoke-filled fires into which he falls and is burned. In addition, he may see a crucible into which he is hurled, or winds, lightning and terrifying darkness in which he is trapped. He may encounter other awful visions, such as turbid, filthy waters in which he drowns, or narrow, dark streets and ruined, waste-filled palaces, or else dangerous animals like snakes, scorpions, lions and bears. Whenever the Sufi tries to escape, he is surrounded on all sides by high walls or finds himself struggling across sand dunes or falling into deep, dark pits.56

Dhikr as practice The four-beat dhikr, called the chahār-ẓarb, described by Simnani was practiced with minor modification by later Sufis following what came to be known as the Kubrawi order or the ‘Golden Chain (silsila-ye zahab)’, as well as in other Sufi movements deriving from or influenced by it. Variants of this practice utilizing several beats and conceived of in multiple levels and as travelling through a mystical body are found in other traditions as well, although they are most prevalent in Persian, Central Asian and South Asian contexts with close connections to the Kubrawi environment. Naqshbandi sources speak of five levels of inner dhikr, each corresponding to a subtle spiritual substance (laṭīfa): the heart (qalb), the spirit (rūḥ), the inner self (sirr), the hidden self (khafa’) and the most hidden self (akhfa’). The first is the dhikr of the heart (dhikr-i qalbī), then of the spirit, which is pronounced on the right side of the breast beneath the nipple, then the dhikr of the inner self performed on the left side of the breast. This is followed by the recollection of the hidden self performed on the right side of the breast and signifying the absence (ghayba) of the self. The final stage is the dhikr of the most hidden self, which occurs in the centre of the breast and signifies the annihilation of the individual (fana’).57

Sufi Dhikr Between Meditation and Prayer


Dhikr between meditation, prayer and performance Dhikr itself is not the only meditational practice engaged in by the majority of Sufi practitioners. As a matter of fact, collections of supererogatory prayers (called awrād, singular wird) constitute a significant portion of the ritual corpus of many Sufi communities. The number of printed collections of awrād continuing into the modern period suggests the pervasiveness and popularity of reciting these prayers as a Sufi ritual practice. In the Kubrawi Sufi circles after Simnani, the Awrād-i fatḥiyya of ‘Ali Hamadani (d. 1384) includes prayers purportedly used by important Sufis from earlier times as well as Qur’anic verses, formulas for reciting the names of God, prayers of repentance and other things. Dhikr occupies a central place in the ritual life of Sufi communities, and probably deserves to be understood as the primary meditative practice engaged in by individuals within a Muslim context. However, dhikr lies between meditation and prayer; very importantly, within its own context, not only is dhikr viewed primarily as a form of prayer, in that it has dialogic and affirmational (and sometimes even petitionary) properties, but it is also integrally linked with other ritualized practices, such as retreats, forms of visualization and religious ‘journeying’. Practices of engaging in retreats (khalwa) of various lengths (most famously one of 40 days, referred to as an arba‘īn) are a larger topic that cannot be addressed here, as are the varying techniques of visualization used by Sufis as a meditational as well as pedagogical exercise. It is important to note that the Sufi notion of ‘journeying’ serves as a conceptual category within which one might best understand the nature and role of dhikr and other exercises. The metaphor of journeying dominates Sufi vocabulary, with both the way of Sufi life and individual Sufi organizations referred to as a ‘way (ṭarīqa)’, Sufi comportment as ‘travelling (sulūk)’ and an individual Sufi as a ‘journeyer (sālik)’. The conceptualization runs deeper, with use of terms such as ‘stage (maqām)’, ‘destination (manzil)’, ‘arrival (wiṣāl)’ and so on. Journeying does not, in fact, serve only as a metaphor in Sufism, but as the primary conceptual framework of a religious life within which ritual activities such as dhikr are fitted in order to serve the greater purpose of the journey. In a treatise entitled ‘Treatise on Journeying’ (Risāla dar safar), Majd al-din Baghdadi (d. 1219), a prominent Sufi figure preceding Simnani in the Kubrawi tradition, differentiates between three kinds of journeying, that of ordinary people (‘awāmm), the elect (khawāṣṣ) and the elect of the elect (khawāṣṣ al-khawāṣṣ).58 According to Baghdadi, the journeying of ordinary people is to realize the value of good belief and practice, of the elect it is the journey comprised of a Sufi life and of the elect of the elect it transcends ordinary points of reference and description. While describing the journeying of the elect, Baghdadi outlines the various stages in the journey in much detail, but he does not describe dhikr practice itself, nor even refer to it in a direct way. Yet it is readily apparent from his writing that travelling on this journey requires some form of practice that supplements (but does not abrogate) the ritual practices obligatory to all Muslims. This supplementary practice is dhikr – together with other Sufi exercises of visualization, seclusion, audition and so on, which also go undescribed in the treatise.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

From the treatment of dhikr as a frequently unspecified component of the Sufi ‘journey’, as well as from its positioning in a wider context of practice in works describing Sufi doctrine and the details of the process of attaining Sufi religious goals, it appears clear that, although specific traditions of dhikr might well be studied as forms of meditation, as a whole, dhikr functions simultaneously as a form of Muslim prayer. Specifically, dhikr can be seen as one form of affirmational prayer, together with ritual Qur’an recitation, various forms of divine adoration and glorification and praises for Muḥammad and other religious figures.59 Yet its status as prayer neither diminishes nor supplants its function as an important form of meditation, and as such, the nature of dhikr challenges existing conceptions of the distinction between these two religious categories.


Movement and Stillness: The Practice of Sufi Dhikr in Fourteenth-Century Central Asia Shahzad Bashir

Stanford University

In this chapter, Shahzad Bashir argues that the Sufi practice of dhikr presupposes a continuum between mind and body, and between the individual and his social setting, in particular his master. This contrasts with the modern notion of meditation as a mental technique undertaken by an individual, in which the body and the social setting are typically seen as mere ancillary elements. The chapter describes Central Asian Sufi discussions during the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries ce over whether one should move or hold still the tongue and other parts of the body while performing dhikr, both camps placing equally strong emphasis on the body, including its external physical properties and its internal ‘subtle’ aspects. The chapter also points out that the instruction and guidance of a master situated within a chain of Sufi authority is seen as a necessary and integral part of the practice of dhikr. By treating individual practice and social factors in a conjoined way, Bashir argues for continual re-examination of the issue of terminology in the study of meditational paradigms.

As evident from the contents of this volume, the wide scope of the term meditation is a major benefit underscoring its use as a comparative category. To attempt to define meditation and ask the question whether a particular concept or idea falls within the category are intellectually productive endeavours irrespective of particular results. In this chapter, I take this perspective for granted and, going one step further, draw the term meditation into a single orbit with an Islamic concept that has a long history and can refer to a wide array of practices. The term in question is ‘dhikr’, the Islamic concept most likely to come to mind when we seek an equivalent for the English term meditation. While the two terms do overlap significantly in what they denote, they also have significant differences. Here, I delve into the details of some particular forms of Sufi dhikr with the aim of laying out the general framework underlying the concept. Ultimately, the usefulness of the comparison between dhikr and meditation lies in the way it allows us to investigate them both as linguistic terms as well as sets of behavioural phenomena.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

My specific concern in this chapter is the practice of Sufi dhikr in Central Asia during the approximate period 1300–1500 ce. Dhikr (in Persian: Zikr), or the effort to concentrate oneself on the remembrance of God, is traceable to the beginnings of Islamic history. Dhikr is an activity associated with the earliest Muslims who either called themselves Sufis or can, in hindsight, be recognized as the progenitors of Sufism as an Islamic perspective. In its origins, dhikr was a relatively straightforward activity in which the practitioner’s aim was to achieve an extraordinary awareness of God through excluding the thought of anything else while repeating divine names or liturgical formulae (Ernst, 1997; Netton, 2000). The practice underwent much evolution in later centuries as Sufis adopted various complex techniques such as breath control and moving the body repeatedly in set sequences with the aim of producing mental states that connoted higher levels of consciousness or communion with the divine. By the period with which I am concerned, the way a Sufi group performed dhikr marked its communal identity and distinguished it from groups with variant practices. In Central Asia, dhikr ran the entire gamut, from a silent remembering of God in one’s mind on one hand, to groups of individuals collectively doing elaborate dances to the accompaniment of music on the other. Fourteenth and fifteenth centuries ce were a period of rapid expansion of Sufi communities in Central Asia that led to a greater role for Sufi practices in Muslims’ ritual life. One consequence of this expansion was greater friction on the issue of internal Sufi differences that track more closely to matters of practice than ideology. The vigorous debate over whether the dhikr should be performed with or without bodily movement is perhaps the most emblematic element in this matter of internal differentiation. In what follows, I concentrate on two prominent Sufi masters active in Central Asia during the fourteenth century: Bahāʾ al-Dīn Naqshband (d. 1389) and Sayyid ʿAlī Hamadānī (d. 1385). Hagiographical representations of these masters produced after their deaths characterize the two sides of the societal debate on dhikr.1 I have divided my discussion of dhikr into three parts, corresponding with my sense for what is most useful when thinking about dhikr and meditation in conjunction. I begin by laying out the way the practices of ‘vocal’ versus ‘silent’ dhikr are described in the sources, concentrating on corporeal themes and internal understandings of the ultimate aims. The second section focuses on meditational practices’ role in the representation of interpersonal relationships, particularly in the context of connections between masters and disciples. This part includes a consideration of initiatory practices that correlate with the discussion about dhikr. The third section consists of an explicit comparison between dhikr and what is usually understood by the term meditation.

The practices Amidst all the diversity of ways of doing dhikr that can be documented from Islamic religious history, two issues seem to have been constants: doing dhikr regularly in some shape or form has been essential to being a Sufi; and the way the body is used while performing dhikr has indicated one’s affiliation with a chain of Sufi authority that transmitted a distinctive religious practice through the centuries. The necessary

Movement and Stillness


confluence of these two factors intertwines individual religious effort with social identity when we consider the place of dhikr in the history of Sufism.

Silent Dhikr In the period of the history of Sufism that concerns me here, a number of influential Sufi masters considered it best that dhikr be performed silently and without moving the body. Such a practice had the advantage that it could be done in the midst of other activities rather than being limited to the specific times when one was free from other chores of life. Moreover, the silent dhikr avoided religious ostentation of any kind; it allowed one to practice the Sufi path without other people knowing about it and interpreting it in any way. In Central Asia during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Bahāʾ al-Dīn Naqshband and his followers were the strongest advocates of silent dhikr. This group adhered to the motto ‘solitude within society’ (khalvat dar anjuman), with particular emphasis on silent dhikr as a cornerstone of the group’s distinctive perspective (Weismann, 2007). The silent Naqshbandī dhikr did not involve moving the tongue or the body, but descriptions of how it was done nonetheless convey the sense of a practitioner paying very close attention to corporeal demeanour. This dhikr practice required the practitioners to force internal energy into different parts within the body through concentrating the mind and regulating the breath. This was to be undertaken while repeating the verbal formula that constitutes the Islamic profession of faith: ‘there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God (lā ilāha illā’llāh, Muḥammad rasūl allāh)’. Theoretical explanations that prescribe the use of the verbal formula emphasize it as the ultimate articulation of negating (nafī) the concerns of the material world and affirming (ithbāt) complete concentration on God and the example of Muḥammad. The verbal formula is thus seen as a pithy summation of the whole religious program. It seems to act as an aid for concentration that regulates the mind and body rather than being a theurgical incantation that is powerful in and of itself (Aḥmadī, 1970, pp. 119–21). A major Naqshbandī author describes the implementation of the formula in the following way: The master says in his heart ‘There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.’ The disciple brings his heart to presence and places it in front of the master’s heart. He opens his eyes, purses his mouth, presses his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and places his teeth together. He gathers himself and obediently, with all his power, begins the dhikr together with the master. He says this in his heart, not by the tongue, being patient and doing three iterations per each breath. (Muʿīniyān, 1977, 1, pp. 43–4)

As the dhikr formula gets repeated, the practitioner has to observe further details that correlate specific words with locations on the practitioner’s body: The beginning of the word lā is at the navel and its [eventual] seat is at the right breast; the letter alif [in the next word] begins from the seat in the right


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

breast, going into the pineal heart [on the left] to form the word allāh; and [the remaining formula] illā’llāh Muḥammad rasūl allāh is attached to the heart. (ibid., 1, pp. 129)2

This description offers a contrast between the body’s external stillness and the practitioner carrying something from one part of the body to the next in the inside. When we consider the Naqshbandī dhikr closely, it seems that the issue of the body’s stillness and movement appears in different lights depending on whose eyes we choose to utilize as our mediating vantage points. At the most obvious level, practitioners restrict an ordinary observer’s ability to discern dhikr through the body’s outward passivity. In contrast, the practitioners themselves are concerned fundamentally with directing the flows of forces within themselves. There is, then, a highly dynamic expenditure of psychic energy within the field of a detailed mental image of the body maintained with considerable care.3 Moreover, stories about the performance of this dhikr indicate that masters were supposed to be able to apprehend what happened inside the practitioners’ bodies because of their insight and special relationships with the subjects. In one story, after a prominent master had taught a disciple the dhikr, he observed him doing it and said that that was wrong because the man had not managed to keep his heart, a hidden organ, absolutely still as prescribed (Kūrānī, n.d., fol. 22a–b). Similarly, another master once instructed one of his disciples to inscribe the formula to be repeated during dhikr on his heart and then stare at it. When the disciple failed to understand what this meant after being told twice, the master asked him to sit facing him. He then put his hands on his chest and when he next looked down, he saw the formula imprinted on his heart. He was astonished to see this and became a firm devotee of the master (ibid., fol. 103b–104a).

Vocal dhikr Unlike the Naqshbandīs and some of their predecessors, most Sufi groups in Central Asia did not consider it a problem to use the tongue and the body during dhikr. For them, the benefits of using movement to reach desired states outweighed the danger of affecting ostentation and becoming ensnared in worldly concerns. Major chains of authority such as the Kubraviyya, the Yasaviyya, the Niʿmatullāhiyya, the Ṣafaviyya, etc., all had dhikr practices involving bodily movements. Performing dhikr openly was a significant component of the hagiographic public personas of most masters belonging to these lineages. A good case in point to show the use of dhikr with external movement is the practice ascribed to the Kubravī master ʿAlī Hamadānī (d. 1385), whose lifetime overlaps with that of Naqshband almost exactly. The description of Kubravī dhikr resembles the Naqshbandī practice discussed above, except for the crucial differences that the words of the religious formula are said out aloud and the body is moved externally rather than internally. The practice is known as the ‘four-beat’ (chahār żarb) dhikr and is described as follows: [From the upright position, the Sufi] brings his head down to the level of the navel while saying the word lā. Then he becomes upright while saying the word

Movement and Stillness


ilāha. Then he inclines the head toward the right breast and says illā, followed by inclining toward the heart, which is on the left side, while saying allāh. The words have to be said connected to each other and in a single breath. Although some of God’s friends do the dhikr while holding their breath, the honorable Sayyid [ʿAlī Hamadānī] taught me to do each cycle of dhikr accompanied by a single breath. (Ẓafar, 1995, p. 101)4

The verbal formula utilized here is the first part of the Islamic profession of faith that, as discussed earlier, denotes a negation of earthly connections and affirmation of concentration on God (Hamadānī, 1991, pp. 535–9). This dhikr could be performed alone or in the company of other Sufis, and the verbal invocations contained in dhikr were expected to settle in all parts of the practitioners’ bodies and become like a natural sound within them (Ẓafar, 1995, p. 169). Whether silent or vocal, the ultimate purpose of all types of dhikr was to bring Sufis closer to God. All descriptions of progress along Sufi paths can be related to the practice of dhikr, although precise descriptions of what occurs inside a person during dhikr are relatively rare. The following account, which comes from a master known for vocal dhikr, is good for giving a general sense of the immediate results: During the dhikr, or after it has finished, a flash of lightning flickers from the cloud so that the veil is torn up and the light of the one who is recalled in dhikr shines forth in the form of a special overseer and presence. It is necessary that, at this point, all parts of the individual person, both the inner and the outer, should be still as if dead, absent from the world as if annihilated. Observing this light relieves him from paying attention to the rest of his surroundings, although eventually, these things crowd in to force the eye of his heart away from staring at the light. (Norris, 1990, plate II)

The contrast between the body’s movements during dhikr and its stillness afterward in this description indexes the ritual’s function as a mediator between ordinary earthly experience and the direct communion with God sought by Sufis. The fact that practitioners can maintain the sacred condition only as long as they are immobile hints at the notion that embodiment is a kind of entrapment from which one needs to escape as much as possible through religious exercises. Comparing the silent and vocal dhikr, it is easy to see that the body was at the centre of this quintessential Sufi ritual irrespective of the production of movement or sound. This is obvious in the case of vocal dhikr, but the silent version is also keyed very strongly to the practitioners’ consciousness of their bodies. Keeping still while holding the breath requires intense bodily work, and the way the dhikr is described makes clear that practitioners projected their internal energies towards various parts of the image of their bodies that they held in their minds. Both types of dhikr were aimed also at regulating the body and bringing its internal and external movements under the purview of one’s conscious control as much as possible.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Dhikr and the authority of masters As we have seen already, even basic descriptions of dhikr presume the interpersonal relationship between master and disciple. We can underscore the significance of this theme by considering the broader fields within which dhikr practices function in Sufi narratives. For the first case discussed above, Bahāʾ al-Dīn Naqshband’s best-known hagiographer reports that the master indicated that dhikr was effective only when a master specifically instructed a disciple to perform it. This meant that the method of dhikr had to be conveyed through a human chain down the generations and that it had no effect, or could even be harmful, if one took it up solely on personal initiative. Naqshband was affiliated with a chain of Sufi authority known as the Khwājagān, in which the prominent masters from the past had varied between preferring silent or vocal dhikr. Naqshband himself had been instructed in the silent dhikr by a master and had chosen it over the vocal method because he considered it ‘stronger and better’ (Sarīoghlū, 1992, p. 145). Naqshband is also reported to have placed special significance on the moment when a master instructed the disciple about how many times the formula ‘there is no god but God’ had to be repeated during dhikr. This ‘knowledge of numbers’ (vuqūf-i ʿadadī) represented the first level of an intuitive knowledge (ʿilm ladunī) that God bestowed upon Sufis in consequence of their religious endeavours. When conveying the knowledge of numbers to his own disciples, Naqshband made a point of reciting the names of the transmitters through whose mediation he had acquired this knowledge. In one instance of doing this, he affirmed the superiority of the silent practice by referring to a conversation between Khwāja ʿAbd al-Khāliq Ghijduvānī and his master Imām Ṣadr al-Dīn, two early members of the lineage to which Naqshband belonged. One day as he was working on interpreting the Quran with the master, Ghijduvānī stopped on the verse: ‘Call on your Lord, humbly and secretly; He does not love those who transgress’ (7.55). He understood this to mean that the dhikr was to be performed silently, but thought that this led to a conundrum: if one were to use the tongue or the body to do dhikr, it could not be kept secret, since others could observe one’s actions. But if one did it solely inside oneself, then it could be observed by the devil since Muḥammad had said, ‘Satan flows in the veins of Adam’s descendants like blood.’ Ghijduvānī questioned Ṣadr al-Dīn about this and was given the answer that he had to wait to come across a master who could impart to him the intuitive knowledge that would make this issue understandable. Ghijduvānī did eventually learn the secret of the matter from a master, and it was this very understanding, denoted by the ‘knowledge of numbers’, that was conveyed to Naqshband through a chain stretching from Ghijduvānī to his own times (Sarīoghlū, 1992, p. 146).5 Although this story skirts around the issue of an actual number, Ghijduvānī’s alleged puzzlement reveals something quite significant about the Sufi group’s view of the place of the body in Sufi practice. His formulation of the problem sets up an opposition between the body’s exterior (that which others can see) and its interior (veins susceptible to the presence of Satan), and his question points out that practice that is confined entirely to either side of the body is of questionable value. Exterior

Movement and Stillness


practice risks ostentation, while purely interior practice is easily corruptible since it cannot be judged or corrected by someone with greater knowledge or authority. The solution to the problem lies in the link with a master, who must be seen as the only appropriate audience for a person’s religious effort. The main point of Naqshband’s teaching is that one can expose one’s internal religious practice to the master without the fear that this will enmesh one in worldly concerns. And the master can preclude the presence of the devil in one’s veins by teaching the right interior method and guarding against corruption through judging the disciple while being in a sustained interpersonal relationship. As we see here, the correct way to perform the ‘silent dhikr’ has two necessary parts: to eschew public performance by not using the tongue or the body, and be intimately involved with a master who first teaches how to move internally through the dhikr and then keeps an eye on the practitioner’s progress through periodic faceto-face contact. As I have already discussed above, the silent dhikr is not marked by outwardly body movements, but it implicates movement within the mental image of the body as well as the crucial interface between the bodies of the master and the disciple. In accordance with the fundamental point of difference in the two practices, the way ʿAlī Hamadānī is shown to have acquired his practice of dhikr correlates with movement being taken as a positive element of dhikr practice rather than a problem. In a hagiography written by one of his disciples, the master is said to have traced his own initiation into Sufism to a pious man whom his maternal uncle had taken in for the sake of his young nephew’s education. Hamadānī started paying attention to this teacher’s habits when he reached the age of 12 and noticed that he would go to a secluded place in the morning and the evening and would sit and move his head left to right continuously as a religious exercise. He asked him what this was and got the reply that this was dhikr. He then asked if it was necessary to move the head in this way for dhikr, and the old man responded yes, because this is what he had learned from his master, the Kubravī master Maḥmūd Mazdaqānī (d. 1364–5). He then asked the teacher to instruct him in the dhikr, to which he agreed. Three days after starting the practice, Hamadānī suddenly went into a trance (ghaybat) and saw Muḥammad sitting high above on a rooftop. He expressed the desire to join the Prophet but got the reply that he could not come up there by himself and needed the aid of Mazdaqānī. He then decided to travel to the place of this master and began practicing the dhikr in his company (Ẓafar, 1995, pp. 42–3).6 Like Naqshband’s narrative about Ghijduvānī’s affirmation of the silent dhikr, this story hinges on a question about the use of the body in dhikr, asked by a man who is, in the long run, destined to be a great saint and a role model for other Sufis. In both cases, the questioners adopt a recommended method of dhikr in conjunction with becoming hitched to the masters part of Sufi chains of authority. The actual modes of doing dhikr are primary in both cases and establish the young disciples’ affiliation with particular Sufi paths. However, the full benefit of performing dhikr materializes only when it is done under the guidance of masters who convey its true meaning after accepting the young men as personal disciples.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Dhikr in the context of other practices While dhikr is a central and universal concern within Sufism, the groups that concern me here were involved in other practices as well that need to be taken into account in an appraisal of meditation as a Sufi concern. In the case of the followers of Bahāʾ al-Dīn Naqshband, one main author indicates that in this group, the method of concentration (tavajjuh) towards the end of enhancing one’s inner reality began by imagining the form of the person from whom one had acquired affiliation with the group (i.e. the master). They would do so to the extent that the image would begin emitting bodily heat and then would continue to hold the image within them until it became imprinted on their hearts. The purpose of this procedure was to transform the heart from an ordinary lump of flesh into the organ through which human beings can connect to divine realities. Such a transformation required that the image of the master’s body first be absorbed through one’s bodily senses and then implanted into the heart using the internal senses. The whole process of the image settling into the heart went hand in hand with the practice of dhikr discussed above (Muʿīniyān, 1977, 1, pp. 169–70).7 In parallel with this method of conjoining the master’s form with the disciple’s heart, in ʿAlī Hamadānī’s milieu, his disciple Jaʿfar Badakhshī’s lament on the master’s death emphasizes the significance of the connection. He describes the pleasure of having experienced physical proximity to the master with particular reference to dhikr when he narrates the moment of seeing Hamadānī’s sweet-smelling body arrive for burial in Central Asia after the master had died on the road back from India: This poor man, who is the collector of that noble man’s effects, has trained other dervishes in seclusion for three months after having heard the sound of dhikr from every part of his abode and every part of his body. He has smelled his perfume and tasted the honey of the path on every one of his teeth. These experiences are all branches that have stemmed out from that noble person to reach these beggars, the collectors of his fruit. (Ẓafar, 1995, p. 284)

In the narratives I have presented, the practice of dhikr anchors the development of relationships between the men involved. Juxtaposing these stories without getting lost in the forest of historical details allows us to see that, far from being a mere index of the larger interpersonal relationships, dhikr is the defining feature around which these Sufi narrators weave their images of great masters interacting with their disciples. Beyond the dyadic master–disciple relationship, the practice of dhikr had consequences for the larger society as well. The internal Sufi differentiation regarding silent and vocal dhikr was a part of the keenly contested religious world of Central Asia during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.8 We can substantiate this by considering the way stories regarding masters preserved in hagiographical narratives revolve around questions of practice. One major reason underlying the competition was clearly the struggle between masters and lineages to acquire disciples. In an emblematic story in this regard from a major compilation of Naqshbandī hagiographies, a master named Shams al-Dīn Rūjī (d. 1499) is said to have chosen his affiliation on the basis of the way the Naqshbandīs practiced their dhikr. The source states that when Rūjī first decided to

Movement and Stillness


follow the Sufi path, someone recommended the famous master Zayn al-Dīn Khwāfī (d. 1435)  in Herat as the guide to whom he should attach himself. However, when Rūjī went to visit this man, he became disinclined to join him because of the din his followers were making while practicing their vocal dhikr. On the way back from the expedition, he came across an acquaintance who told him to visit a Naqshbandī master instead. When he did this, he was greatly impressed by the calm and stillness that reigned during silent dhikr, which led him to join the Naqshbandīs (Muʿīniyān, 1977, 1, pp. 328–9). Bahāʾ al-Dīn Naqshband is himself shown as being able to protect his followers from the negative effects of vocal dhikr through miraculous intervention. For instance, one evening when Naqshband was visiting the home of a disciple that was in the vicinity of a palace, the prince who lived there had invited a party of singers (qavvālān) who were performing loudly accompanied by dance and ecstatic cries from the audience. Naqshband told his disciples that this wanton behaviour was unlawful and that these sounds should not enter one’s hearing. He then indicated that the solution was to put cotton in the ears. Then as soon as he put cotton in his own ears, the whole company assembled in front of him stopped hearing the sounds. Later, some neighbours inquired from Naqshband’s disciples about how their group had managed to pass the night in the house given their opposition to music. When they told the neighbours what had happened, they were so impressed by Naqshband’s powers that they decided to join the ranks of his devotees (Sarīoghlū, 1992, pp. 254–5). In direct opposition to Naqshband’s attitude, a main hagiographer of ʿAlī Hamadānī cites statements from Muḥammad to assert emphatically that the vocal dhikr as it was practiced and taught by Hamadānī was not an improper ‘innovation’ (bidʿat), one of the usual ways to proclaim a practice as being religiously deviant in Islamic thought (Ẓafar, 1995, p.  197). Moreover, in stories about Hamadānī, dhikr’s vocal quality is precisely the element of the practice that is shown to lead to spiritual breakthroughs. A hagiography states that in the very beginning of Hamadānī’s religious journey, he was unable to derive any benefit from dhikr until his inner self became receptive to the outer stimulus of hearing other people doing the dhikr. Once dhikr started to take effect, he got to the point where he would lose himself completely upon hearing it and his master forbade other disciples to perform it in his hearing lest his spirit completely leave the body. His overall reaction to the outside world then changed so drastically that he lost all consciousness of his surroundings and was kept in chains for three months and force-fed in order to keep him alive. Once out of this condition, he began to practice samāʿ, a term that means ‘audition’ and denotes ecstatic dancing to accompany dhikr. He later told his hagiographer that anyone who does not love audition in the beginning of the path is not going to produce great work later in life (ibid., pp. 46–8). A work by Hamadānī on dhikr affirms this attitude through the remark that the ear is the bodily organ with the most sensitive connection to the heart. Unlike the eye and the mouth that can be closed to stop seeing or talking, the ear can be precluded from sensing only if one removes oneself completely to a place where no sound is being made at all. Ultimately, the creation of sound in dhikr brought speakers and listeners into a single participatory space and joined individuals together to create a social body (Hamadānī, 1991, p. 542.)


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Dhikr and meditation In its most commonsensical English meaning, the term meditation conjures the image of individual practice, focused on a single body and mind and connected to personal goals, whether religious or otherwise. Using such an understanding, we may regard the physical and social set-up surrounding forms of meditation as ancillary concerns that may be disassociated from the core of the activity. If we consider the types of dhikr I have discussed above as forms of meditation, we would be inclined to make an analytical separation between the activities undertaken by practitioners on one side and the way these relate to interpersonal relationships on the other. This would cast dhikr asunder from the human relationships that enable the enactment of the practice. While such a separation is certainly justifiable from our analytical perspective, I believe that the material I have surveyed indicates that it would stand in considerable tension with respect to the internal Sufi perspective on the practice. Treating dhikr in conjunction with meditation – but without subsuming either into the other – has the benefit of highlighting particularities that are obscured if we see the two as neutrally descriptive terms. On the side of dhikr, it is highly significant that all descriptions of the practice are embedded within larger narratives that take special care to locate it as something that is born of interpersonal connections. At least in the milieu that I have highlighted, there are no texts that describe or prescribe the practice without tethering it securely to the Sufi authority structure represented by the master–disciple relationship. In fact, nearly all works that represent dhikr state explicitly that taking up dhikr without the permission and supervision of a master is harmful rather than helpful while trying to progress on the Sufi path. Furthermore, whether the practice is observable physically or has no outward signs (i.e. vocal or silent dhikr), stories associated with dhikr indicate masters’ ability to judge its propriety or effectiveness because of their special insight into the affairs of their disciples. It is utterly clear, then, that from the Sufi perspectives I have highlighted, the practice of dhikr cannot be disassociated from the social context in which it takes place. In my view, the inextricability of the personal and the social in the practice of dhikr is tied to the fact that in Sufi theory, the ultimate purpose of following the Sufi path is to cultivate a particular form of human religious subjectivity that conjoins many different aspects of human existence. In its most elaborate and sophisticated form, Sufi theory includes a keen appreciation for relationships between physical sensations, emotions and mental conceptualizations including both rational thought and imagination. Human subjects are composites formed of the interarticulation of all these factors. A human person never exists in isolation since she/he is thought always to be involved with others through processes of mimesis, attraction and repulsion. Given this understanding, even a technique that seems to be an individual practice is, in the last instance, inextricably connected to the social world surrounding the particular person who undertakes it. As all the stories I have cited amply indicate, phenomenality and sociality are inherently interconnected in Sufi understandings. To take dhikr out of context therefore amounts to nullifying its purpose in a fundamental way.9

Movement and Stillness


On the meditation side of things, the comparison between dhikr and meditation is instructive for highlighting the fact that our commonsensical modern understanding of meditation is also premised on a particular conception of the human person that is far from a human universal valid across cultures and time periods. The idea that individual practice is localizable to a single person rests on the notion of individual sovereignty and is connected to a particular conception of rights and responsibilities that has acquired an aura of universality and inevitability only since the worldwide spread of modern western ideas. The modern concept of meditational practice is premised on this base understanding, which is why it resembles, but cannot be interchangeable with, the place of dhikr within a different system such as Sufi thought and practice. Just as thinking about dhikr as meditation helps us understand the practice better, examining meditation in the light of presumptions coming from dhikr highlights meditation’s connection to modern forms of human subjectivity that are ingrained in the way we think and act but are not always easily visible. I would suggest, then, that dhikr and meditation are not synonymous terms; however, they bear a kind of ‘family resemblance’ to each other and thinking about their similarities and differences provides an excellent venue to deepen our understanding of both.


Music and Remembrance as Meditation: Samā‘ in the Indus Valley Michel Boivin CNRS-EHESS

In this chapter, Michel Boivin gives an historical survey of the various combinations of music and remembrance known as samā‘ and their uses in the Sufi orders of the Indus Valley. Samā‘ is often considered to be an advanced form of dhikr. It is performed in groups and has a textual and often poetic focus, but also includes song, music, and, quite often, ecstatic dance. Over the centuries, breathing techniques play an increasingly important role and attest to the influence from Indian yoga. The goal is to annihilate the self and merge with God, sometimes by first merging with the shaykh. Samā‘ is sometimes considered an easier and more accessible way to progress on the mystical path than the more demanding discipline associated with traditional dhikr. However, its reliance on music and dance also makes it controversial, and one of the Sufi orders of the Indus Valley considers it unlawful. In contrast to typical cases of meditation, samā‘ is a communal rather than individual practice, sometimes distinguishing clearly between those who perform it and its audience, and it is more obviously geared towards short-term changes of state than long-term transformations with lasting effects on the person. Still, Boivin argues that the various practices known as samā‘ do not fall outside the scope of meditation, but rather illustrate the diversity of the phenomenon.

If meditation can be conceived as a self-administered attention-based technique for inner transformation, a survey of the main techniques and practices in a single religion like Islam highlights at once the diversity of the ways of meditation. This observation is especially true when the topic under study is a constellation of practices usually gathered under the Arabic term samāʿ whose unifying feature is that it mainly refers to the use of music, vocal as well as instrumental, for bringing about such inner transformation, which is itself of many natures.1 This chapter is only an attempt to disentangle the relations between meditation and samāʿ in a given context, that of the Indus Valley, nowadays located in Pakistan, also known as Sindh. In the Muslim


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

context, as shown by Shahzad Bashir and Jamal Elias in this volume, meditation is usually translated by the word dhikr, from an Arabic root which refers to memory, remembering. Its implication is that God should not be forgotten. The study of the relation between meditation and samāʿ in the Indus valley is a challenge for many reasons. First, there is the scarcity of sources, historical as well as ‘doctrinal’. The Sufi traditions of Sindh are still mainly transmitted through an initiatic and oral process. Consequently, ‘transformation’ defined as long-term and basic changes affecting the person is not easy to identify, and furthermore to describe. Such a lack can be partially filled by a contextualization of the topic, which would provide the framework in which spiritual practices related to meditation were, and still are, performed. The first part will focus on samāʿ in the classical Sufism of Sindh. It will show how samāʿ was the core of Sufism from the earliest times. The second part will shift to the renewal of samāʿ, which occurred in the nineteenth-century Sufi traditions in the regional context of Sindh. Meditation was conceived as an interwoven relation between remembrance, vision and chanting the ‘name’. The third and last part will be devoted to ethnographical data for introducing alternative forms of samāʿ, like dance. It will focus on the dhamāl, a local ecstatic dance, to trace both its relation with dhikr and samāʿ. In other words, the aim will be to evaluate if the dhamāl is still within the scope of meditation.

The progressive prevalence of Samāʿ Sufism reached the Indus valley very soon after the Muslim conquest completed by Muḥammad bin Qāsim in 711.2 Sufis may have been among the soldiers of his army. A number of legends in Sindh claim that pious figures like, for example, ʿAbdullāh Shāh Ghāzī were among them. His laqab (title) of ghāzī ‘victorious soldier’ might provide some evidence. It could also be the case of one Ḥājjī Turābī, whose shrine (dargāh) stands in the delta. Nonetheless, the first Sufis who reached the Indus Valley were mainly ascetics. It means that nothing is known in terms of affiliation to a Sufi order, a ṭarīqa. The Indus Valley was not an exception in this respect, since the institutionalization of ṭarīqas did not occur before the twelfth century in the Middle East. Among this first stream of Sufis, one person was to play a fundamental role: Abū al-Hasan ʿAlī ibn ʿUthman al-Jullabī al-Hujwirī al-Ghaznawī, better known locally as Dātā Ganj Bakhsh.

Samāʿ and raqṣ according to al-Hujwirī (d. 1076) Al-Hujwirī was born in Ghazna and died in Lahore between 1063 and 1076 (456 and 469 according to the Islamic calendar). Ghazna was then the capital of the Ghaznawid Empire, and after having travelled in Iraq, Syria and Turkestan, he went to settle in Lahore, which was a part of the empire. He was the author of about ten books, but only one book has survived: the Kashf al-Mahjūb.3 It is the oldest treatise on Sufism in Persian and the second oldest on Sufism in any language, the oldest one being written in Arabic about 80 years earlier by Abū Naṣr al-Sarrāj.

Music and Remembrance as Meditation


The Kashf al-mahjūb, or the Revelation of Mysteries, addresses the main topics of eleventh-century Sufism. The last part is made of 11  ‘unveilings’, which is the etymological translation of kashf. The first kashf is about the knowledge of God, or maʿrifat, and varied other topics are addressed, such as the ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and the zakāt (giving a fixed portion of one’s salary as a tax), or the divine unity, tawhīd. The last kashf is devoted to samāʿ. It is interesting to observe that there is no kashf on dhikr proper, although many references to it can be found throughout the treatise. It is thus legitimate to think that samāʿ was already a main issue in the Indus valley Sufism. Al-Hujwirī started with the audition of the Quran, and he addresses a number of issues related to samāʿ, such as the principles of audition, dance or the tearing of clothes. In the end, his main goal is to decide what is acceptable as samāʿ, and what is not acceptable. For al-Hujwirī, there is a unique goal to samāʿ: the contemplation of God. That is why the best samāʿ is the audition of the Quran. He provides a number of anecdotes where Arab people converted to Islam as soon as they had heard the recitation of the Quran. Listening to poetry is also lawful according to a ḥadīth of Prophet Muḥammad. Most Muslim theologians think that it is also lawful to listen to instruments if it is not as a pastime. The listeners are divided into two categories: those who listen to only material sounds, and those who perceive the spiritual meaning. Two states are produced by listening to samāʿ: the state of mourning because the Beloved is lost (wajd), and the emotional state resulting from the contemplation of God, in which God has been found (wujūd). The first state would be that of the novice, the second one that of the mystic. Al-Hujwirī claims that these states are but two forms of ecstasy. The people who try to produce ecstasy, or the ahl-e tawājud, can perform the raqṣ, a dance aiming at achieving ecstasy. Although he claims that raqṣ has no basis in either sharīʿa or ṭarīqa (Sufism), al-Hujwirī states that the disorder (idtirāb) produced by the fusion of the soul (with God) should not be understood as being a raqṣ, although the gestures can look similar. He then shifts to the laceration of clothing (fī’l kharq). He explains that during the samāʿ, ecstasy makes the Sufi unconscious and he thus can be forgiven for lacerating his clothes. Al-Hujwirī concludes that the samāʿ is lawful, but should not be institutionalized by the Sufis, and should always be performed under the guidance of the shaykh. If the state reached by the listener produces some disorder, he should accept it. However, novices should not perform the samāʿ. In the eleventh-century Indus Valley, the samāʿ was therefore far from being an accepted ritual among the Sufis. Nonetheless, the most amazing point is that al-Hujwirī does not connect it to dhikr proper. Its relation to dhikr as meditation is not even an issue. For him, it is a marginal practice, which cannot be legitimized by Islamic scriptural sources. He found it dangerous to the extent that since it involves emotion, young Sufis might not be able to keep it under control. Finally, the legitimacy of samāʿ lies in the goal reached by the audience: the contemplation of God. Once again, al-Hujwirī does not mention the samāʿ, or raqṣ, as a technique for reaching the state of the annihilation in the master (fanā’ fī’l shaykh), and even less the annihilation in God (fanā’ fī Allāh).


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

From Dhikr to Samāʿ in the early Sufi poets of Sindh A first observation related to Sufism in Sindh is that the main source is provided by poetry in the Sindhi language. Sufi literature proper, like malfūzāts and tadhkiras, is very rare. Interestingly, the reading of the oldest Sufi poetry in Sindhi, which does not go beyond the sixteenth century, gives strong evidence that samāʿ was a main issue in Sindhi Sufism. Although it is not possible to know if the Sufi order of Chishtiyya was influential then, Sindhi literature must be scrutinized to decide whether or not the notion of samāʿ, and its relation to dhikr, is similar to that of Chishtiyya writings. Qāzī Qāzan (1463–1551) is accepted as the author of the oldest Sindhi poetry, although this does not mean that he was the first one. It is amazing that no allusion to the samāʿ can be found in Qāzī Qāzan’s verses, although most of the features of Sindhi Sufi poetry can. For instance, the poet laughs at the mullah and at the people who read the Quran millions of times, but do not know the self within. Many times, he stresses the importance of vision (dīdār) and remembrance (yād): If they don’t seek his vision (dīdār) even for a moment, How can they really claim His love and kindness? Forget all other letters, remember (yād) only Alif, the first one Light the flame that is never extinguished. (Thakur, 1978, pp. 3–4)

Many verses induce a kind of introspection, which is the first step of meditation. The step of ‘know yourself ’ is followed by that of ‘lose yourself ’, obviously a reminiscence of the concept of fanā’ ‘annihilation’. Along the way, it is also necessary to have the body under control; otherwise the vision of the Beloved will not be brought about. Qāzī Qāzan is also the first Sufi poet of Sindh to confess that his master was a jogī. The word jogī, the vernacular form of the Sanskrit yogī, is mainly attributed to the Nāthpanthīs, a Shaivite sect specialized in a yoga tradition based on breathing techniques. Unfortunately, he did not provide more details about the techniques for reaching a vision of God: I was asleep in a slumber, the jogī woke me up; He cleansed my heart of dirt and showed me the essence. (Thakur, 1978, p. 18)

In Sindh, Qāzī Qāzan’s poetry was very influential. Seven verses were included in the Bayān al-ʿārifīn, a tadhkira written in 1630 by a follower of the Sufi Shāh ʿAbd al-Karīm (1536–1624). Shāh ʿAbd al-Karīm was 15 years old when Qāzī Qāzan passed away.4 One of the main features of his kalām (work) is the importance given to samāʿ: Some people engaged themselves in reading books and some in other occupations. I learnt the samāʿ only and did not care for any other occupation. (Quoted in Motwani, 1979, p. 49)

For him, samāʿ is the most advanced form of dhikr. The importance he gives to music in the spiritual quest also appears in his mention of the minstrels (maṅaṇā). They

Music and Remembrance as Meditation


appear to be mediators between devotees and God (Motwani, 1979, p. 57). The Bayān al-ʿārifīn reports Shāh Karīm’s words, according to which he was quite aware of the Fuṣuṣ al-ḥikam written by Ibn ʿArabī (1165–1240), the main exponent of the Sufi concept of waḥdat al-wūjud ‘unity of being’.5 It was a prerequisite for stating that man could reach the divine state. As a wujudī, Shāh Karīm claims a number of times that there is no difference between God and the seeker who has reached his goal.

Shāh jo rāg or the triumph of samāʿ according to Shāh ʿAbd al-Laṭīf Shāh ʿAbd al-Laṭīf Bhittā’ī, or Shāh Laṭīf, or even just Shāh (1689–1752), is acclaimed by all Sindhis as the greatest poet of Sindh and the Sindhi language. He was the great grandson of Shāh ʿAbd al-Karīm. He was born in Hala, but so many legends were formed about him that it is difficult to trace the facts of the historical person. We know, however, that he was very fascinated by the jogīs, considering them as the models of renunciation. He probably travelled with them to a number of Hindu pilgrimage sites, including Dwarka and Hinglāj. The fame of his work, known as the Shāh jo risālo, the Epistle of the Master, is based on a number of items. First is the extensive use of the characters of Sindhi folktales. Second is the emphasis he gave to the waḥdat al-wūjud, which means that Muslims and Hindus can reach the final state of annihilation in God. Among his influences, Rūmī was dominant, and his poetry is sometimes called the Masnawī of Sindh.6 Although many studies have been devoted to Shāh Laṭīf,7 some points have not yet been accorded the attention they deserve. For example, the Shāh jo risālo points out the importance of music through the role given to musicians. In Sur Sorath, Bijāl the minstrel defies Rāo Diyyāch, the king of Junagarh. The power of his lyre (chang) is such that the queens start crying and the forts eventually fall. The many terms used by the poet to describe the minstrel, like chāraṇ, mīrāsī, jājīk or maṅaṇā (sometimes maṅaṇār), not only reflect his own interest in music, but also the role played by the musician in the regional society. The figure of the ‘mendicant minstrel’, the chāraṇ, is nevertheless dominant in Shāh Laṭīf ’s poetry. Regarding the instruments, although the chang is most often mentioned, one can find others, such as the kamach (Qāsmī, 1999, pp. 435–59). Shāh Laṭīf was a renovator of Sindhi samāʿ. It is said that around 1742, he invented a new musical performance, known as Shāh jo rāg. During the last ten years of his life, this performance was improved with the help of his follower Tamar Faqīr, who was in charge of the Shāh jo rāg after Shāh Laṭīf ’s death, and then followed by his descendants. Every day, the Shāh jo risālo is sung by the faqīrs. The performance occurs every night between the ʿishā and the fajr prayers. The Shāh jo rāg is performed by the rāgī faqīrs who are organized in several groups or tolīs. Every tolī sings given parts of the poetry on given days, accompanied by a single instrument, the tanburo. The launching of the Shāh jo rāg introduced a kind of ‘democratization’ of the samāʿ since the meditative allusions given by the poetry allowed the audience to progress on the mystical path. Furthermore, Shāh Laṭīf is the first Sindhi Sufi whose poetry contains many allusions to breath. He designates it mainly with Sindhi nouns like pasāhu or lokān, but also, although more rarely, with the Persian word dam. He did not explicitly claim that


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

he had learnt breathing techniques from the jogīs, but this is more than probable. In his verses, the importance of breathing is expressed in association with other features, and breathing is seen as the main path to reach God: He is this, He is that He is the destroyer, He is the creator He is the Beloved, He is the breath (pasāhu) He is the enemy, He is the saviour as well. (Qāsmī, 1999, p. 38)

In his verses, Shāh Laṭīf clearly explains that breathing techniques allow one to be closer to God, and even to empty the soul of anything but divinity. Breathing is thus a fundamental process bringing about such results. Consequently, despite the paucity of details, it is obvious that breathing can be performed through the learning of specific techniques: The Divine reality (haqīqat) has changed my life I am not able to take one breath (hekṛo pasāhu) without the Beloved (pirīn) Nothing else has remained in my soul except the Lord and Lord only. (Qāsmī, 1999, pp. 725–6)

In many folds, Shāh Laṭīf is not only a great poet in the literary field, but he is also the first modern Sufi of Sindh. With him, music once and for all becomes the path for reaching God. The counterpart of the samāʿ is nevertheless the control of breath, since God cannot be reached without such techniques. The breathing techniques should be transmitted from master to disciple through the channel of initiation. Consequently, they are part of what Shāh Laṭīf describes as the secret. He is very cautious regarding the divulgation of the secrets, arguing that people would not understand. In a verse, he exclaims: ‘How can I describe the Beloved’s secrets (ḡejha) here?’8 (Qāsmī, 1999, p. 719).

The growing role of breath in the process of remembrance Interestingly, the seats of the most powerful Sufi brotherhoods were located close to the seat of political power. During the Delhi sultanate, the seat of the Chishtiyya was soon established in the capital. The main ṭarīqas, or Sufi orders, namely the Chishtiyya, the Qādiriyya, the Sohrawardiyya and the Naqshbandiyya, were nevertheless established in most parts of the Indian subcontinent. While the Sufi traditions of the imperial centres, such as Delhi, have been well studied, a more neglected approach is related to how the normative discourse produced in imperial cities was transmitted in faraway provinces. It is not easy to know the relations between the seat of the brotherhood with the distant khānaqāhs (Sufi cloisters). I will now examine if the relation between dhikr and samāʿ was similar in the different Sufi traditions of Sindh, those that were related to the ṭarīqas of the Chishtiyya, the Sohrawardiyya and the Qādiriyya (the Naqshbandiyya forbids samāʿ and is therefore

Music and Remembrance as Meditation


excluded)9. Was there some vernacularizing process at work? Did the Sufis from the imperial cities use the lingua franca of Sufism, Persian, or did they begin to use a new lingua franca, Urdu? Sindh is an interesting case study in this context. Although it was the first Indian province to be conquered by the Muslims at the eve of the eighth century, Sindh was far away from the Ganga plain, where both Delhi and the other Mughal capitals were located.

Remembrance (yād) and music (sāz) in a Chishtiyya branch Regarding the development of samāʿ in Sindh, a significant case is the Farūqī brotherhood, a Chishtiyya offspring located in the village of Daraza, near Khaypur in Nothern Sindh. Sachal Sarmast (1739–1829) was the most illustrious scion, usually ranked as the second great Sufi poet of Sindh after Shāh Laṭīf. He was himself, like Shāh Laṭīf, an accomplished player of tanburo, and like many other Sufis of Sindh, he was represented with the instrument. His verses attest that for him, music or sāz was the equivalent of divine knowledge. Sāz is far superior to any other ways, especially the so-called Islamic regulations, like fasting (Sindhi rozo) or prayer (Sindhi namāz): How intoxicating (mast) my Love is, He took me amazingly, I forgot all fasting (rozo), nor do I remember (yād) any prayers (namāz)! I drink the nectar (sharāb), close to my Beloved night and day, Not for the qazi nor the mulla, have I any regard left! The eyes have lost all sleep, everyday am I with the Beginning, Tuned (sarando) with pain for my Love, makes the music (sāz) in me! (Bevatan, 1997, p. 264)

Like the mainstream of Sufi poetry in Sindhi, Sachal Sarmast considers that the exoteric approach to Islam, such as following the precepts of sharīʿa, is but a step on the mystical path. Although the Chistiyya was famous all over India for the role given to samāʿ, in Sindh, other ṭarīqas, such as the Sohrawardiyya, also reduce the practice of dhikr to the performance of samāʿ, or, like the Qādiriyya, they at least gave samāʿ a main role. In the Jahāniyyā branch of the Sohrawardiyya, samāʿ was given a function as crucial as it was among the Chishtiyya.

Chanting the name (Nām) and breathing (Dam) in a Sohrawardiyya branch The Jahāniyyā branch of the Sohrawardiyya was founded by the descendants of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Bukhārī Makhdūm-e Jahāniyyān Jahāngasht. They settled in the village of Jahaniyya, which is presently incorporated in the city of Hyderabad. The most famous Sufi master was Quṭub ʿAlī Shāh (1810–1910), an accomplished Sufi poet in Sindhi. Quṭub ʿAlī Shāh had many followers among the Muslims and the Hindus of Sindh. He was a wujūdī, and his poetry is dotted with references to Hindu concepts and/or characters. For instance, he uses the word darshān for vision as much as dīdār. Quṭub ʿAlī Shāh often associates remembrance (yād) with breath (mainly dam). In the following verses, he provides an indication that respiration is performed with the


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

chanting of the name, nām. The nām is the word given by the master during initiation. It is, like in classical dhikr, the basis on which meditation will be performed: Waking up at midnight, those that chant the name (ganhan nām), They remain forever in bliss, untouched by wrong, Every moment within the name (nām) they utter, Those disciples stay, who are every breath (dam) with the name (nām)! (Jhuremalani, 1985: 54)

Quṭub ʿAlī Shāh provides a number of clues related to breathing. It should be controlled from different parts of the body, but the navel plays a tremendously important role, associated with the nābh kanwal, the ‘lotus of the navel’. The symbol of the navel is a point of convergence between Islam and Hinduism. In the Baghavad Gītā, Brahmā was born from a lotus spread out from Vishnū’s navel (8.21.2–3). It can also refer to the sidrā al-muntahā, the lotus (or sometimes translated as jujube) of the limit, which is the name given in the Quran (sūrat al-najm, 53/14) as being the last stage reached by Prophet Muhammad before God.

Remembrance (Yād) and breathing (Dam) in a Qādiriyya branch The role played by samāʿ is also attested in other Sufi ṭarīqas of modern Sindh, such as the Qādiriyya, which is also influential. Rakhiyyal Shāh al-Qādirī (1846–1940) was born in the village Halim Shah of Tehsil Mirpur, Balochistan. His father Miyyān Nūr Maḥmad Shāh shifted to the dargāh of Fatehpur in Tehsil Khandawa, where Rakhiyyal Shāh was brought up. It was about the age of 40 that Rakhiyyal Shāh adopted the Sufi path and went to the dargāh of Jhok Sharif, where he stayed under the guidance of his master. He sang kalāms in Sindhi, Baluchi and Persian. Rakhiyyal Shāh weaves an inextricable relation between breathing and remembrance, as in the following Sindhi verses: Mercy of Beloved is near me not! Breath by breath (dam dam) remembers (yād kare) Love my heart! (Chāndīo, 2007, p. 23)

The modern Sufi poets of Sindh gave a tremendous role to samāʿ. Except in the Naqshbandiyya, the samāʿ was closely associated with dhikr, and sometimes seen as dhikr itself. Remember that the samāʿ is rooted in mystical lyrics, while the instruments, when they are played, have an auxiliary role. The strength of a samāʿ, therefore, is mostly dependent on the strength of the lyrics, of the images that are produced by poetry. In sum, the Sufi poets of Sindh have abundantly commented that the goal of mystical audience is reached through the implementation of a three-step process. According to most of them, the first step is performed for remembrance, here known as yād rather than dhikr. The process of yād coupled with samāʿ is to bring the Sufi in the presence of God, here known as dīdār, or vision, which is the second step.

Music and Remembrance as Meditation


The dīdār is itself a process whose aim is the fusion with God, the fanā’ fī Allāh, the third and final step. The variety of samāʿ gives evidence of the flexibility of the Sufi ṭarīqas. The Sohrawardiyya, the Chishtiyya, but also the Qādiriyya left room for the vernacularization process first expressed through the use of local language, primarily Sindhi. In this context, the silsila (spiritual genealogy) most of the time provides legitimacy. The fragmentation of Sufi authority in Sindh, which may have been related to that of political authority, allows the emergence of a variety of samāʿ embedded in the locality, more than in a larger regional culture. The process of becoming autonomous Sufi ṭarīqas probably responded to issues of competition between the ṭarīqas, but also, inside the ṭarīqas, between different pretenders for the rulership of brotherhoods. Nonetheless, the century-long popularity of samāʿ is undeniable, and it became the most salient feature of Sufism in Sindh.

From Samāʿ to Dhamāl: Constructing an alternative Dhikr requires many years of practice to reach the final goal of the Sufi path: the fanā’ fī Allāh, the annihilation into God. It requires unconditional submission to the injunctions of the Sufi master. Throughout the centuries, other Sufi devotees have considered a number of alternative means that allow the practitioner to reach the goal more directly. This is related to a debate between a ‘sober’ and an ‘intoxicated’ or ‘drunk’ (mast) school of Sufism, a distinction that can be traced to the beginnings of Sufism. The mast school of Sufism was based on the performance of a trance dance. Although trance dance may not be ‘meditation’ in the sense of a gradual learning under the Sufi master’s guidance, it can be described as, precisely, a self-administered attention-based technique for inner transformation. A main issue will be to understand under which conditions Sufi devotees use such a way, and also who are the devotees who perform it in terms of social and ethnic backgrounds. The nature of inner transformation produced by trance dance should also be discussed.

Dance (Dhamāl) as an alternative Dhikr The issue of dance is not new in the Indus Valley, since al-Hujwirī had already addressed the topic when he was to delimitate samāʿ. In the classical treatises of Sufism, dance is addressed as raqṣ. Although al-Hujwīrī was not very keen to allow it, dance is nowadays very popular in the Sufi shrines of South Asia. The main performance is known as dhamāl, a polysemous word in the Neo–Indo–Aryan languages.10 The issue here is to explore whether the dhamāl is still within the scope of samāʿ, and its relation with meditation in the sense discussed here. In Sindh, speaking of the dhamāl echoes the sacred city of Sehwan Sharif, where the Sufi saint Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar is buried. Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar was born in Western Persia. He travelled at an early age to Syria and Egypt. He was initiated to the Qalandariyya by the alleged founder, Jamāl


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

al-Dīn Sāvī, who ordered him to go to India. He reached the Indus Valley, and after a short stay in Multan, he finally settled in Sehwan Sharif one or two years before he passed away in 1274. Interestingly, in Multan, he was close for some time to Bahā’ al-Dīn Zakariyya, the Sohrawardī master. In his ghazal verses in Persian, Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar praises the role of dance, here again referred to as raqṣ. Although the ritual proper is not described, his verses claim that it is the main process for reaching God. In other words, dhamāl is the quintessence of dhikr. He stresses the crucial role of dance in a famous quatrain, where all the verses end with the verb raqṣam ‘I dance’ (Shaykh, 1988, p. 146). It is not known how Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar used to perform raqṣ, although a local ṭarīqa, the faqīrs of Bodlo Bāhar, claims to perform the authentic dance as taught by the Sufi saint. Two main kinds of dhamāl can be distinguished: the ziyāratī dhamāl and the faqīrī dhamāl. The ziyāratī dhamāl is performed by all the devotees, the pilgrims or ziyāratī, who pay a visit to Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar’s shrine. To some extent, one can even claim that they come for the performance of dhamāl. Although informal, the male performers usually jump from a foot to the other, with raised legs and raised index fingers. A main catalyser is the rhythm provided by huge drums, whose chambers are in iron, covered by cow skins. During about 20 or 30 minutes, the drumming goes on crescendo and the dancers are jumping faster and faster, so that they finally are in a state close to unconsciousness, interpreted as ecstasy.11 I shall now focus on the second one, the faqīrī dhamāl, which is performed by the faqīrs attached to the shrine of Bodlo Bāhar, the main disciple of Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar.12 It is taught and allowed after formal initiation in the ṭarīqa. It is interesting that the expression of emotion is coupled with strong concentration. The faqīrs perform a whirling dance, following the rhythm given by the drum, which is going crescendo. The mastering of the ritual is necessary, and it results from long-term apprenticeship. Even if the faqīrs reach ecstasy during the dance, they are compelled to dominate it, in the end seeking to control their strong emotions and feelings, including trance. The dhamāl performed by the faqīrs of Bodlo Bāhar is structured and organized. Slow rhythmic sequences alternate with rapid rhythmic sequences. The rhythm is given by a single drum put against the wall of the shrine. Each sequence lasts around two minutes. The session starts with a very slow drumming calling the faqīrs. When they reach the scene, they touch the drum and form a line facing the entrance of the shrine, behind the drummer. The drummer is playing very slowly. This is the preliminary phase, when the faqīrs are concentrating, either touching their earlobes or joining their hands. The real beginning of the session occurs when a faqīr shouts: ‘Yā ʿAlī!’. Then the drummer beats the drum in a quick rhythm, while the faqīrs perform a whirling dance with raised arms, in a counter-clockwise direction. This is followed by a slow rhythmic sequence, indicating to the faqīrs that they should stop whirling. They put one foot to the front, then the other, but some advanced faqīrs carry on whirling, although on a slower rhythm. Elders among the faqīrs have gunghro, an anklet with which they reinforce the rhythm by beating the ground. The last sequence is a very fast one, and a kind of paroxysm is reached. The faqīrs are whirling very fast, and when the beating stops very suddenly, the faqīrs stop dancing. They should have total control and not express any feeling or sensation.

Music and Remembrance as Meditation


Other forms of meditation Other processes can be understood as meditation. In many cases, the gaze plays a seminal role. It works by itself as a meditation technique, since it is able to put the performer into the presence of the saint or that of God. The performer accomplishes an inner transformation, although it will last only a while. The supports of this process of ‘being-in-presence-with’ are many, but they usually are related to the senses, such as vision or hearing. Here, emotional approaches to meditation have superseded more intellectual approaches, like the ones performed in the dhikrs previously studied. Sometimes, meditation is performed through two media: visualizing and hearing. The main support for the implementation of the visualizing process is the iconography of Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar. In the most popular poster, he is represented in different postures, including performing the dhamāl. Indeed, the structure of the poster is very interesting, since it reproduces to some extent the two main successive steps of the mystical quest. On the right side, there is a big representation of Laʿl Shahbāz in prayer, as the rosary in his hands and the carpet attest. On the left side, in a smaller size, there is a drummer and Laʿl Shahbāz dancing. Furthermore, top left, the main motto sung during the dhamāl is also given: ‘By the breath of the intoxicated Qalandar!’ (damā dam mast qalandar). Thanks to the poster, the devotees can reproduce the dhamāl at home. Usually, they have bought cassettes where the dhamāl performed in Sehwan has been recorded, or even a CD. Thus they can do it by themselves, without any guidance, and they are also free to choose a time. It is noticeable that such a process is well adapted to a middleclass way of life, for the people who cannot stay in Sehwan for a long time for a formal initiation to a Sufi path because they have a job and a family. The poster can be tagged as a portable support for meditation, as a rosary is a portable support for prayer. Another powerful alternative form of meditation is the touching of relics. A number of objects are said to have been Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar’s. The gulūband, the necklace, is the most popular. It is put inside the shrine, hanging on a corner of the tomb. In fact, the tradition states that it was given to the fourth Shīʿite imām, Zayn al-ʿAbidīn, the survivor of Karbala.13 It was made of a big stone and then compelled him to wear it, since he was obliged to bow. Miraculous water is pouring from the stone, and devotees, especially women, come to touch the stone and fill bottles with water. The benefit is that they pass into a new state, which is interpreted in a number of ways. The most common interpretation is that they are purified from their sins. This is a prerequisite for reaching higher levels. Another interpretation is that they are put in a situation from which a higher level of consciousness will be reached, knowing that the final goal is still the merging with God. The touching of the gulūband allows the common people to progress on the Sufi path, but there is also a ritual process restricted to the faqīrs: the kishtī jo dīdār, or the gaze of a relic known as the kishtī. It is the bowl with which Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar, who was a wandering Sufi, used to beg for alms and food. In this case, it is a beautiful artefact to which many supernatural powers are given. It is, for example, supposed to have contained the nectar, a metaphor for Divine knowledge. In a ceremony that occurs once a year, at the time of the ʿurs, Sufi masters and their faqīrs are invited to


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

see, to touch and to eat dried fruits which were in the kishtī. Interestingly, the process involves three senses in a single ritual: seeing, touching and tasting. The kishtī is kept by the highest Sufi authority of the town. As in the case of the gulūband, the principal benefit is once again spiritual, or it removes one’s sins. Also, the main result of the ritual is to be in the presence of the saint. The dhamāl is a form of samāʿ that displays a number of features. First, it is a dance, and it is reduced to the use of a single instrument, a drum, and without any singing. Is it still within the scope of meditation? The dhamāl obviously produces an inner change for the performer. In local parlance, it is named as mast, intoxicated, but it is in fact a trance that is interpreted as a fusion with the saint, what is termed in classical Sufism as fanā’ fī’l shaykh. The devotee can also perform a micro-dhamāl at home, while using a poster as support, as well as cassettes for listening to the drumming.

Conclusion This brief survey of samāʿ and dhikr in Sufi ṭarīqas of the Indus Valley, the Sohrawardiyya and the Chishtiyya, demonstrates a number of elements related to meditation in Sufism. The performance of samāʿ pervades almost all the Sufi centres, with the exception of the Naqshbandiyya. More and more, the production of emotion appears to constitute the process of reaching an inner transformation. In any case, Sufi poetry shows that even more than the process, the goal is pointed out: the merging in God, the fanā’ fī Allāh, sometimes preceded by the fanā’ fī’l shaykh. Only a few practical details are provided, but they are usually focused on meditation as remembrance aided by breathing, dam. Although no detailed techniques of breathing are given, since this is a matter of initiation by the master, these techniques are also related to remembrance, yād in Sindhi, rather than dhikr. The principle of dam is also at the core of the ecstatic dance known as dhamāl. Here again, the layman performers do not master techniques of breathing. Performing is for them a quick process for reaching ecstasy. The main issue addressed by the dhamāl is to know whether the display of emotion can be embedded in the practice of meditation. Once again, it is relevant to distinguish the ziyāratī from the faqīrī. The ziyāratī dhamāl, as well as the other alternative forms, produces strong emotions to the point that the performers often begin to cry. Although it will not be accepted as a process for meditation by many, it provides, if only for a short while, the benefits that are also reached through more classical processes of meditation in Sufi contexts: the merging into the saint and/or God. However, a different picture appears in the faqīrī dhamāl as practiced by the faqīrs of Bodlo Bāhar. External observation alone cannot come to the bottom of the process and the transformations it brings about. However, its techniques of meditation are mainly associated with the samāʿ that has been prevalent in the Indus Valley for centuries. Mainly based on the use of drums, the recitation of mystical poetry plays a central role in the process of inner transformation. The state reached only lasts a while. The process is flexible and quite informal.

Part V



The Natural Science of Meditation: A ‘Black Box’ Perspective? Svend Davanger University of Oslo

The secular meditative culture associated with scientific inquiry only has a halfcentury long history, but is already shaping the popular view of meditation. In this chapter, Svend Davanger suggests that the failure of modern science to provide basic information concerning the meditation techniques it studies is one of the reasons why the popular view of meditation still retains an aura of mystique. He shows how definitions of meditation are often inadequate, and how scientific studies of meditation mostly fail to provide information that other areas of science would have considered elementary. Thus, in spite of the many studies showing effects of meditation on body and mind, there is little knowledge about how these effects come about – as if they emerged from a black box to which we have no access. Davanger argues, however, that the situation is changing. Some recent studies of meditation are more scrupulous about including information on the mental activity involved, and some attempts at defining meditation scientifically may provide a framework for describing core elements of meditation, such as the distinctions between meditative activity and its resultant states, the volitional and non-volitional aspects of such activity, as well as the focus (object) and mode (attitude) of attention during meditation.

One of the most recent meditative cultures to have emerged is the secular one associated with scientific inquiry. Scientists within physiology, medicine and psychology have been interested in meditation for about half a century, and this has had a considerable impact on modern concepts of meditation. We now know a great deal about the effects of meditation on the cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems, both in the short- and long term. We can discuss health benefits of meditating, also with regard to milder psychiatric disorders, in terms of stress management. As has been the case with other topics, from the starry skies to the animal kingdom, natural science has had a demystifying effect on the public’s view of meditation. However, contrary to, let us say astronomy, meditation is still partly imbued with an aura of mystique in the general public. In this chapter, we examine possible reasons for this, in terms of the history of scientific studies of meditation.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

The black box For a long time, scientists have almost exclusively focused on the direct effects of meditation, more than the biological or psychological mechanisms through which these effects are initiated. Thus, the volitional, cognitive activities that are performed during meditation, and their neurobiological correlates, have seldom been described in detail, and not at all been subject to a comprehensive functional analysis. It is as if this still represents a terra incognita for scientists and, as a result, for the general public. The act of meditating represents a ‘black box’, the contents of which neither the scientific community nor the general public has much knowledge about. It is a long time since we only used traditional, religious concepts to describe the effects of meditation. But scientific studies of meditation still often rely on scant, traditional terms for describing what the meditator actually does in his or her mind. And this cognitive behaviour has not at all been subject to a functional analysis. Thus, the public is still far from having access to a scientifically based description of what meditation, as a mental activity, really is.

Increasing scientific and popular interest Meditation is a peculiar activity. It resembles other activities, such as music, art, laughter or games, in that it is restricted to the human species and that it combines both structured and spontaneous elements. Like these other activities, the structured elements show culture-specific variations. What is more, the reason for engaging in these activities is not readily understandable to individuals who do not practise them. Ask a person who is tone-deaf why his or her peers listen to music! However, though music has been practised widely both within and outside a religious setting, meditation seems mostly, though not exclusively, to have been used as religious practice throughout history. The surprising fact is that for the last century or so, this seems to have radically changed. Though still an integral part of many religious traditions, meditation is now gaining a strong foothold in the lay population, often without reference to religion at all. Both the practice of meditation and the scientific interest it receives seem to be increasing. According to one estimate from 2004, there are 10  million practitioners in the United States, and hundreds of millions worldwide (Deurr, 2004). The Institute of Scientific Information has recorded a total of 5,908 published items on meditation (31 December 2011; in the (natural) science, social science, arts and humanities, and conference proceedings databases combined; though some of the items may use the word broadly to indicate thinking about a topic). The first such articles appeared in 1936 (Anonymous, 1936; Vroklage, 1936). There was a first peak around 1976–78 (about 100 published items annually these years; see Figure 16.1), then a gradual decline in interest until 1988. Since then, the scientific interest has soared, to a 2011 record of 450 published items. This increasing number of scientific studies has been mirrored by the number of citations of meditation studies. In 2011 this citation number peaked at 6,456, almost doubling since 2008 (Figure 16.2).

1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

The Natural Science of Meditation

460 440 420 400 380 360 340 320 300 280 260 240 220 200 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0

Figure 16.1  Number of published items with topic ‘meditation’ recorded by the Institute of Scientific Information for each year













Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

0 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011




Figure 16.2  Number of citations of items with topic ‘meditation’ recorded by the Institute of Scientific Information for each year

The Natural Science of Meditation


No common definition One of the problems regarding our knowledge of meditation is that in spite of the considerable interest it has received from scientists and others since 1936, there is still no common definition of the term. Three common online databases give these definitions: 1. Wikipedia: ‘Meditation is a holistic discipline by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, “thinking” mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. . . . Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual goals – from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, compassion and lovingkindness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.’ 2. Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Meditation: ‘private devotion or mental exercise encompassing various techniques of concentration, contemplation, and abstraction, regarded as conducive to heightened spiritual awareness or somatic calm.’ (Spiritual awareness, in turn, has been given no single definition, though the concept is used in 85 different articles. Concentration has also been given no single definition, but the concept is used in 2,744 different articles.) 3. Merriam-Webster: Meditation: ‘the act or process of meditating’. Meditate: ‘to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness’. (The search term Spiritual awareness yields no results, while Concentration is defined as ‘the act or process of concentrating: the state of being concentrated; especially: direction of attention to a single object’, and Attention, in turn, is defined as follows: ‘a) the act or state of attending especially through applying the mind to an object of sense or thought; b) a condition of readiness for such attention involving especially a selective narrowing or focusing of consciousness and receptivity’.) There is little help here for the scientist or layperson who wants to get a clearer grasp of what meditation is. Most of the words used to explain the term are even more unclear than the term ‘meditation’ itself, for example, ‘spiritual awareness’, or ‘higher state of consciousness’, or ‘lovingkindness’. The closest we get to an understandable definition may be Merriam-Websters use of ‘concentration’, though this is also questionable, since several of the popular techniques (Transcendental Meditation or Acem Meditation) teach their practitioners not to concentrate. But if we follow Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘concentration’, we arrive at the word ‘attention’. This is also not an unequivocal term, since psychologists tell us that attention may comprise two different areas: the focus and the fringe (Eriksen and Hoffman, 1972). ‘Fringe attention’ would then imply something different than most common definitions of ‘concentration’.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

No scientific definition Even the biomedical scientific community is not even close to arriving at a clear definition that is shared by all. One review article (Rubia, 2009) in the respected journal Biological Psychology gives the following definition: ‘Meditation is essentially a physiological state of demonstrated reduced metabolic activity – different from sleep – that elicits physical and mental relaxation and is reported to enhance psychological balance and emotional stability.’ There may be two flaws with this definition: first, though superficially it seems very ‘scientific’, it is complicated and not obviously coherent; second, it is not really a definition of the act of meditating at all, but rather an attempt to define the physiological results of meditation. One obvious problem with defining meditation is that there is a multitude of different techniques and traditions all calling themselves ‘meditation’, but with often very different practices and related teachings. Another problem is that different authors may either use the term as a description of a ‘fourth state of consciousness’ (Rubia, 2009; the other three being sleep, dream and consciousness), or as a mental (or even physical) activity or action. A ‘state of consciousness’ is itself a difficult term to define clearly, so that might not help. It may be easier, as a scientist, to regard meditation as a mental/neurobiological activity, as opposed to a state. A clear, operational definition will be necessary to link different elements of meditation techniques to specific neurobiological mechanisms and their contributions to the physiological effects of meditation. Thus, a definition would act as a scientific tool, assisting in understanding the biological mechanisms of meditation. The lack of such a definition, therefore, has the effect of continuing to shroud meditation in mystique.

Suggested scientific definitions In the past decade, two biomedical articles have arrived at operational definitions of meditation that may contribute to a more transparent concept of meditation. Cardoso and co-workers (Cardoso et  al., 2004) maintain that, in order to be characterized as meditation, a procedure should satisfy the following requirements: (1) the use of a specific technique (clearly defined), (2) muscle relaxation throughout or at some point during the procedure and (3) logic relaxation; (4) it must necessarily be a self-induced state and (5) use of self-focus skill (coined anchor). By logic relaxation, the authors imply that there should be no intention to analyse, judge or expect the resulting psychophysical effects. By self-focus skill the authors understand the focusing of attention on or perception of a bodily or mental ‘anchor’, a meditation object, during the practice. Of these five criteria, the first two and the fourth are quite straightforward, understandable to all and probably simple to apply for both practitioners and scientists. Criteria 3 and 5, however, are on the one hand not immediately self-evident, but on the other hand they are possibly the most interesting and closest to the most distinctive features of meditation.

The Natural Science of Meditation


Ospina and co-workers (Ospina et  al., 2007) discuss very similar concepts. For example, they also see relaxation as part of the meditation process. And when stating that ‘.  .  . most investigators would agree that meditation implies a form of mental training that requires either stilling or emptying the mind, and that has as its goal a state of ‘detached observation’ in which practitioners are aware of their environment, but do not become involved in thinking about it . . ., cultivating an attitude of acceptance of process rather than content,’ they appear to discuss a concept similar to ‘logic relaxation’, that is, not judging or evaluating. Similarly, when writing that ‘(a)ll types of meditation practices seem to be based on the concept of self-observation of immediate psychic activity,’ the authors apparently discuss aspects of attentional focus, or ‘anchoring of the mind’ as in Cardoso et  al. (2004). Ospina et  al. again specifically mention this: ‘. . . the kind of anchor employed (a word, breath, sound, object or sensation).’ However, Ospina et al. (2007) mentions an aspect of meditation that is not apparent in the definition of Cardoso et  al. (2004): ‘.  .  . practices that shift between the field or background perception.  .  . ’. Here they introduce the fact that the mind, also during meditation, includes a background field in addition to its focus of attention. This concept was mentioned above, in our discussion of attention, where Eriksen and Hoffman (1972) discern between the fringe and the focus of attention. I and my co-workers have also made similar distinctions specifically with regard to Acem Meditation (Davanger et  al., 2010). Here we employ the term directive versus nondirective attention, implying that directive attention includes only a specific focus on the meditation object or anchor, while non-directive attention also allows the background perception or fringe to be part of conscious perception during meditation. The concept of allowing the background field to be an integrated part of meditational attention relates to the concept of ‘logic relaxation’ (Cardoso et al., 2004). If a practitioner is required to allow the presence of mental activity without analysing, evaluating or judging it, letting this mental activity be part of the background field of mental attention facilitates this. However, even the meditation object or anchor itself, being the focus of attention in meditation, may be subject to evaluating or judging.

Lack of scientific explication On the basis of the criteria for meditation discussed in Cardoso et  al. (2004) and Ospina et al. (2007), I shall now examine to what extent scientific studies of meditation are explicit with regard to the characteristics of the meditation method investigated – including the type of cognitive or neurobiological activity the meditation method employs, both the type of anchor or meditation object used as well as the type of attention, that is, whether both background and focus of attention are included. In order to determine to which degree scientific authors in fact are explicit about these aspects of meditational mental activity, I have investigated ten published studies of meditation (Table 16.1). They were all among the most cited articles about ‘meditation and brain’, as listed by the Institute of Scientific Information. As is evident from Table 16.1, only two of the papers were specific about these aspects of mental/ neurobiological activity. The most cited paper on meditation and brain did not give

Table 16.1  Analysis of ten highly cited biomedical papers on meditation with regard to the parameters used to classify the investigated techniques Reference

Name of meditation technique

Description of mental activity

Scientific references to the technique

Information on where the technique was learned

(Davidson et al., 2003)

Mindfulness meditation/ Mindfulness-based stress reduction




(Lutz et al., 2004)

No (only name of the acquired ‘states’: unconditional lovingkindness and compassion)

Only for the control subjects

Not to this specific technique


(Lazar et al., 2005)

Buddhist Insight meditation

Yes, briefly. Four lines, no description of background mental activity

Yes (to a book describing No the technique)

(Aftanas and Golocheikine, 2001)

Sahaja Yoga meditation

Very little. Two short lines depicting the relationship between awareness and thoughts, for one of the three phases of the meditation.



(Lazar et al., 2000)

Simple form of Kundalini meditation

Brief (five lines) description of volitional activity, No no description of background mental activity


(Newberg et al., 2001)

Not sufficiently: ‘Tibetan Buddhist meditation’

Briefly, two lines. No description of background mental activity



(Jevning et al., 1992)

Transcendental Meditation

Briefly, two lines. No description of background mental activity


Yes (TM)

(Newberg and Iversen, 2003) Yes (5 different techniques)

Very basic, not related specifically to any of the techniques



(Jha et al., 2007)

Mindfulness training/ Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Yes, focus of mental activity in relative detail, brief mention of background mental activity



(Brefczynski-Lewis et al., 2007)

Not sufficiently: ‘Tibetan Buddhist tradition’

Yes, both focus and background of mental activity in some detail



The Natural Science of Meditation


any description of the specific type of cognitive activity at all, while seven were only very brief (up to five short lines) about describing this activity in their investigated meditation technique(s). Three of the papers did not cite any scientific references to their technique, and seven of the papers did not give information about where the practitioners studied had learned their specific meditation technique. (However, the two papers that specified the mental/neurobiological activities employed were the two most recent ones (Jha et  al., 2007; Brefczynski-Lewis et  al., 2007), indicating that science may possibly be in the process of becoming more explicit with regard to this requirement.) If we compare this with medical studies focusing on, for example, the effect of a certain pharmacological compound on brain activity, the contrast is striking. In the scientific community, it is an obvious requirement that the unequivocal characteristics of this compound are given, and also where this compound has been produced. For some reason, both authors and journals are less specific with regard to meditation. The reasons for this contrast are highly unscientific. In studies investigating the relationship between meditation and brain activity, for instance, it is equally important to be distinct about the mental activity employed during meditation. Different types of meditation objects and attention will activate different regions of the brain, possibly leading to different physiological and psychological results. One can only speculate about the reason for this situation with regard to meditation research. It is as if scientists have had too much ‘respect’ for the traditions of meditation they have studied, not realizing that what goes on in the mind during meditation may in fact be described in relatively simple, common terms. Another reason may be that many scientists have regarded meditation as a ‘state’ rather than a mental/neurobiological activity. As we have discussed, a mental state is a more diffuse, unclear concept than a mental activity. Many practitioners and teachers may in practice use mental or physiological effects of meditation as a guide to determine if their meditational practice is progressing in a desired direction, and call these effects ‘states’. However, the interpretation of these states is subjective, and their possible attainment is secondary to the cognitive or neurobiological activity employed. A specific state may or may not be common to different meditation practices. Thus, the primary mental/ neurobiological activity seems to be a more suitable element to use in the definition of meditation in general or of distinct meditation techniques.

Challenges of scientific explication On the other hand, though a clear and simple description of the mental activity engaged in during the specific kind of meditation in study will clearly facilitate science on meditation, it seems impossible at the present stage to arrive at a common nomenclature to describe all aspects of activity used in different meditative traditions. Each of these may have developed their own, distinct classification systems, which are not readily transferable between the different traditions, or to a modern western, science-based understanding of the technique. One should acknowledge this challenge.


Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

One example of these problems is the term concentration. Some traditions use the term about all techniques where the focus of attention is directed towards a distinct meditation anchor, for example, the breath. In other traditions, such a focus of attention may be achieved with or without concentration, that is, it is not the focus of attention in itself that determines whether one has engaged in concentration, but rather the way one directs this focus of attention, for example, the degree of acceptance of background (or fringe) perception. We are still far from having established a culture-unspecific taxonomy for mental activities that are being employed in different traditions of meditation.

Conclusion In contrast to astronomy and other fields of scientific inquiry, meditation still retains an aura of mystique both among scientists and in much of the general public, in spite of the increasing body of meditation research. In this chapter, I have suggested that part of the reason may lie in the history of scientific studies of meditation. More specifically, scientists have often joined the general public in treating the volitional, cognitive activities that are performed during meditation, and their neurobiological correlates, as terra incognita, as an inaccessible ‘black box’. This has made it impossible to investigate the functional link between mental (or bodily) activity and the different effects that various forms of meditation have been shown to elicit. The working mechanisms of meditative techniques have often remained shrouded in mystery. There are signs, however, that this situation is changing. We have seen that a few of the more recent scientific studies of meditation have been more scrupulous about including information on the details of the techniques under scrutiny. We have also discussed recent attempts at giving a scientific definition of meditation that may provide a framework for establishing core elements of meditation activity. These attempts point to the importance of specifying the type of meditation object (e.g. word, breath, sound, object or sensation) and the attitude towards the focus and fringe areas of attention. Both belong to the mental (or neurobiological) activity associated with meditation rather than any resultant state. From a modest start, the modern, secular meditative culture associated with scientific investigation is beginning to take shape.

Notes Chapter 1 1 See Eifring, MS a. Thanks are due to Shahzad Bashir, Augustine Casiday and Ole Gjems-Onstad for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. 2 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. Issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15 1989. 3 See Merton, 1968; Johnston, 1971. 4 The Benedictine monk John Main (1926–82) advocated meditation on the Aramaic prayer maranatha (which he called a mantra), and the Trappist monks William Meninger, Basil Pennington (1931–2005) and Thomas Keating (1923–) developed Centering Prayer, partly inspired by Transcendental Meditation. 5 DuBay, 2002, p. 155. 6 Bispemøtet, 1979. 7 Acem protested that the Church had lost out on modern psychology, and devoted a whole issue of its periodical Dyade to a discussion of the relation between religion and psychology, see Grøndahl, 1980. 8 French, 1965, p. 60. 9 DeWeese, 1999, p. 504. 10 de Jong, 1999, p. 313. 11 Bowen, 1993, p. 42. 12 Madelung, 1999, p. 133. 13 Homerin, 1999, p. 236. 14 See Khanna, MS. 15 Ambiguous attitudes towards techniques are also widespread in Asian meditative traditions, as in Tibetan Rdzogs chen and Chinese Zen. 16 Similar ideals are found in Zen meditation, see Schlütter, MS. 17 Benson, 2000. 18 Kohn, 2008. 19 See Eifring, MS b. 20 Wolters, 1978, ch. 7, pp. 69–70, and ch. 37–8, pp. 104–5. 21 In Asian traditions, the breath is understood as an expression of the transience of existence in certain Buddhist contexts, or as a link to cosmic energy in Daoist and Yogic contexts.

Chapter 2 1 Assuming that most readers of this volume would not be specializing in Hebrew studies, it was decided to use simple, non-technical transliteration of Hebrew terms. 2 See, for instance, in Zevit, 2001.

238 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20 21

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29


Notes At the Cultural Histories of Meditation conference, Halvorsbøle, Norway, May 2010. See Bronkhorst, MS. This search as of 10 November 2010 produced ‘around 58,700’ hits. Such practices were discussed also in early scholarship; see for instance Pedersen, 1934, p. 95f; Mowinckel, 1961 and for a more nuanced analysis Müller, 1969. See further Kaplan, 1982 and for instance Schottroff, 1967, pp. 129–32. See Severus, 1953, which however has the later Latin Vulgate and its implied practices as primary reference. The term ‘classical Hebrew’ designates pre-Mishnaic Hebrew language. For practical purposes, this includes Hebrew and Aramaic texts written before the Common Era. For this demarcation, see Clines, 1993, pp. 14, 30–51. I assume that religion in the classical period was distinct from that reflected in later Jewish sources. Further discussed in Stordalen, 2012c, 2013. The classical study for this phenomenon was Wolff, 1984. His study was preceded by important books like Delitzsch, 1861; Pedersen, 1934; Eichrodt, 1944. Non-experts might like to know that a Roman number after a Hebrew stem indicates that the classical Hebrew lexicon holds two or more homonymous stems, and the number names which one of them is under consideration. For this and the following, see HALOT and Jastrow, 1950 ad voc., and also Negotiă and Ringgren, 1978. Augustin, 1983 includes animal ‘murmuring’. A community by the Dead Sea, its manuscripts broadly dating to the period 200 bce to 120 ce. Adding to the conventional pattern of naming I include the element fn to indicate the fragment number, where relevant. Text in [brackets] means the manuscript evidence is obscure. See further 4Q171:3; 4Q403 f1 i:36; 4Q405 f4&5, line 4. See for instance 4Q417 f1 i:6. See further 4Q412 f1 line 6. Notably hagûth and higgayôn. See still the valuable study of Müller, 1969. As one example of a difficult decision, I ended up not considering a passage where a word from the stem hagah could be associated to mantic practices: Isa. 8.19 (NRSV): ‘Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter (hagah); should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living. . . . . . .”’ See Malley, 2004, pp. 45–8, 70–2, etc. For more on this and the following, see Stordalen, 2008, pp. 668–77. See for instance Exod. 24.3–7; Deut. 31.11; Josh. 8.34; 2 Kgs 23.2; Neh. 8.1–12, etc. See Smith, 1993, p. 49, and see pp. 49–50, 130–31, 199–200, etc. Broadly defined, Deuteronomic literature includes the books in the Protestant Old Testament from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings (Ruth not included), and editorial layers elsewhere in the Bible connected to this literature. Introduction and text in Renz, 1995, pp. 447–56. See already Burkitt, 1903. The verb ‘remember’ (zakar) is used in the second person only in Deuteronomy: 5.15; 7.18; 8.2.18; 15.15; 16.3.12; 24.18.22. Exod. 13.9 names the texts to be worn on the body as zikrôn, ‘memorial, reminder’. In Deuteronomic theology textual artefacts are more for remembering than for reflecting, see Schottroff, 1967, pp. 117–26; 339, etc. See the classical discussion by Augustin, 1983; see Müller, 1969.



31 Tate, 1990, p. 268, see 270. 32 On the redactional function of the first psalms, see recently for instance Süssenbach, 2005, pp. 391–3. 33 See verses 23; 48; 78; 97; 99; 148. 34 Similar references are found for instance in CD 13.2; 1QSa 1.7; 4Q266 f8 iii.5. 35 Cited from the Accordance module Qumran Non-biblical Manuscripts: A New English Translation, © 2009 by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. and Edward Cook, Version 2.0, ad loc. Emphasis added. 36 Hebrew chesed, which would often translate ‘mercy’ or ‘covenantal love’. 37 For such chant, see Weil, 1995; Yeivin, 1980. 38 For the following I am indebted to Halvor Eifring’s various introductions through the history of this volume and also to Birgit Meyer, Utrecht, for critical and creative dialogue in developing my argument.

Chapter 3 1 Scholem developed these ideas further in Scholem, 1965. 2 All references to Hekhalot literature will be cited from the paragraph numbers and manuscript numbers of these editions. On the implications of these editions see Schäfer, 1983. For recent overviews of Merkavah mysticism see Schäfer, 2009; and Swartz, 2006. 3 See, for example, Schäfer, 1992, which, while making a forceful argument against seeing these texts as unitary documents still uses these titles for organizing its survey of the literature. 4 Schäfer’s subsequent publication of Genizah fragments of Hekhalot literature (Schäfer, 1984) not only made some of the earliest manuscripts available, but served to advance the argument that this literature is highly fluid; in the Genizah fragments textual units appear in radically different order from those in the European manuscripts, thus supporting the argument that Hekhalot texts did not originate in a single version. 5 Schäfer (1986) argued that this was also true of Rabbinic literature in general, although this argument has been debated; see Milikowsky, 1988. Certainly there are wellestablished examples of this phenomenon in rabbinic literature, such as the TanḥumaYelamdenu complex, the Mekhilta and Avot de-Rabbi Natan, which appear in multiple versions with significant variants; see Bregman, 2003; Kister, 1998 and Nelson, 1999. For overviews of this question, see Swartz, forthcoming, and Veltri, 2010. 6 Halperin’s thesis rests on his argument that the Sar-Torah literature is the ‘centre’ of the Hekhalot corpus and predates the ascent texts; on this argument see Schäfer, 1992, pp. 151–2. 7 This argument is spelled out in Himmelfarb, 1988. 8 See, for example, Scholem, 1954, p. 49. 9 Loḥesh. Often used of incantations. 10 Lewin, 1931, p. 14. 11 On introductions to magical books and their rhetoric, see Swartz, 1996, pp. 190–205. 12 See Swartz, 1996, pp. 153–72. 13 See Schäfer, 1981, §489, in which the practitioner is to cast his eyes down so as to avoid gazing at the divine presence; for a translation of that text and an introduction to it, see Swartz, 2001. 14 On Hai’s relationship to philosophy see Brody, 1998, p. 299.



15 Heb. qefitṣat ha-derekh, literally, ‘jumping on the way.’ 16 Lewin, 1931, pp. 18–19. 17 By this explanation the Gaon has also managed to put distance between himself and the mystics and the magicians without making them out to be utter heretics. He is no doubt aware of the Karaite polemicists, such as Salmon ben Yeruḥim, who had seized on the mystical texts, especially the extreme anthropomorphic treatise the Shi’ur Qomah, as examples of Rabbinic folly; see Cohen, 1983, p. 32, n. 29. 18 See especially Wolfson, 1994, pp. 38, 222. 19 On this point see especially Chernus, 1982, pp. 123–45. 20 Janowitz, 1989; Swartz, 1992. 21 See for example Schäfer, 1981, §206. 22 Heb. rov rashe ṣela’im. 23 On this passage and its background in medical history, see Swartz, 1996, pp. 89–90. 24 On this point, see especially Chernus, 1982. 25 On this element of the narrative, see Boustan, 2005. 26 In the Babylonian Talmud (b. Nid. 67a), the term lo ‘altah lah tevilah refers to an immersion invalidated by an interposing substance. See Lieberman, 1980, p. 243; Schiffman, 1976, p. 274. 27 Lieberman, 1980, p. 242 suggests that the minority would include Rabbi Eliezer, who was known to take a stricter position on purity. 28 The myrtle branch dipped in balsam would serve to disguise the odour of the cloth according to Lieberman, or, in Schiffman’s view, act as a magic wand that would likewise affect the deposition and reinforce the action. 29 MS TS K1.21.95.C in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection of the Cambridge University Library, published in Gruenwald (1969a, b) and Schäfer (1984, pp. 97–111; there it is designated text G8). For translations of portions of the fragment see Halperin, 1988, pp. 368–9; Himmelfarb, 1988; and Swartz, 2000, from which this translation is taken. For discussions of this text, see those works as well as Gruenwald 1980, pp. 188–90; Swartz, 1996, pp. 125–6; and Wolfson, 1993, pp. 19–26, and 1994, pp. 82–5. For a translation and discussion of another text from the same fragment, see Swartz, 1996, pp. 126–30. 30 See Schäfer, Synopse, §554. 31 B. Ber. 60b; see also Birnbaum, 1949, pp. 15–16. 32 See B. Ber. 57b. 33 Hayman, 1986, pp. 176–82. 34 For a summary of the arguments for this dating as well as further evidence, see Steven Wasserstrom, ‘Sefer Yeṣira and Early Islam: A Reappraisal’. 35 Hayman, 2004, pp. 60–1 (§4 in his edition); Hayman’s translation is adapted here. 36 See Hayman, 1986. On the idea in rabbinic literature that human thought can affect the nature of God’s sovereignty, see Idel, 1988, pp. 156–66. 37 This paradox was first pointed out to me in private conversation by Martin S. Cohen. 38 Heb. YH.

Chapter 4 1 Ben-Shlomo, 1965; Sack, 1995. 2 For basic introductions to the Kabbalah and its doctrine of the sefirot, see Ariel, 1988; Scholem, 1954; Tishby, 1989.



3 To master the forest of different names for the sefirot, see Gikatilla, 1994; Robinson, 1994. 4 Idel, 1995. 5 Ibid. 6 On Jewish meditation, see Giller, 2008; Idel, 1985; Kaplan, 1982; Verman, 1996. 7 On autohypnosis, see Shapiro et. al., 1984. On a brief mention in connection to Jewish meditation, see Garb, 2011. 8 Pardes Rimmonim, quoted in its entirety in Kaplan, 1982. 9 Kenig, 1996, p. 201, para. 490, from ‘Tefilah Lemosheh Tefilat Rosh Hashanah Zivhei Shelamim’, Introduction, p. 336b. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Kenig, 1996, vol. 2, para. 53, from ‘Or Yakar parashat vayakheil’, Section 4, Group 11, p. 85. 13 Kenig, 1996, vol. 2, p. 206, para. 499; from ‘Or Yakar Tikkunim’, Gate 2, Section 6, Group 1, p. 107. 14 Kenig, 1996, vol. 2, p. 228, paragraph 561; from ‘Tefillah Le-Mosheh’, Gate 2, Section 5, pp. 22a–b. 15 Kenig, 1996, vol. 8, p. 109, paragraph 349, from ‘Or Yakar’, introduction to the Zohar, Gate 2, Siman 6, p. 97. 16 Cordovero, 1892, p. 82b, gate 5, siman 3. 17 Ibid., p. 83a, gate 5, siman 3. 18 Ibid.

Chapter 5 1 Green, 2004, p. 72. 2 Concerning the emergence of Safed as a kabbalistic community in the sixteenth century, see Fine, 2003, chapter 2. For an overview of sixteenth-century Safed Kabbalah, see Fine, 2011. 3 Concerning Luria’s biography, see Fine, 2003, chapter 3. On Lurianic Kabbalah, see also Magid, 2008. 4 See Fine, 2003, pp. 91–2, 384, n. 35. Luria was likely influenced by Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) who included in his great legal code, Mishneh Torah (Hilchot De’ot 6.3), the following: ‘It is a mitsvah (precept) incumbent upon every individual to love each and every fellow Jew as he does himself, as it is written “and you shall love your fellow as yourself.”’ 5 For a valuable study of the development of this practice, and an enumeration of many of the texts in which it is found, see Hallamish, 2000, pp. 356–82. 6 For a full-length study of Bet El, see Giller, 2008. 7 See Giller, 2008, pp. 19–53. 8 See Fine, 2001, pp. 210–14. 9 Ibid., p. 212. 10 Quoted in Hallamish, 2000, p. 363. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid. See, as well, Benayahu, 1959, pp. 134–51. 13 For a brief, excellent introduction to Hasidic thought, see Green, 1982, pp. 1–27. For a full-length study, see Elior, 2006.



14 Altshuler, 2006, p. 81. Altshuler studies the Zlotchov school in this work, including a discussion of the practice under consideration. 15 For a full-length study of Meshullam Feibish, see Krassen, 1998. 16 Heller, 1974, section 33. Hesed le-Avraham (Amsterdam, 1685) is a kabbalistic work by Abraham Azulai (c. 1570–1643), an ancestor of Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, mentioned above. See Altshuler, 2006, p. 70. 17 Ibid. See Altshuler, 2006, p. 70. 18 Ibid., section 34. 19 Ibid. English translation based on Krassen, 1998, p. 133. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. English translation based on Krassen, 1998, p. 134. Gematria refers to a technique whereby each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical equivalent (e.g. the first letter, aleph, is equal to one). In this case, the words for ‘love’ and ‘one’ have the same numerical equivalent, 13, thus ‘proving’ the inherent relationship between them. 22 Or ha-Emet, 1899, p. 102a. According to the printer’s introduction to this book, it was published based on a manuscript in the possession of Tsvi Hasid. On the notion of telepathic transmission in Hasidism, see the valuable discussion in Garb, 2011, pp. 108–12, and the book more generally concerning the exercise of the imagination in Kabbalah and Hasidism. On visualization of the Divine and the imagination in Kabbalah, see also Wolfson, 1994. See Altshuler, 2006, p. 79. 23 Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, 2011, Letter 6, p. 18. 24 Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, 1911, Letter 18, 24b–25a ff. Translation based on Hallamish, 1996, p. 270. 25 Zev Wolf, 1798, 240a. See Altshuler, 2006, p. 71. 26 Quoted in Hallamish, 2000, p. 362 on the basis of Epstein’s prayer book commentary, Mishnat Gur Aryeh, published in Konigsberg in 1765. Epstein was born in Grodno, Poland, but eventually became the rabbi of the east Prussian city of Konigsberg between 1744–55. The term ger is found in the Torah, Leviticus 19.33, in an echo of the injunction to love your neighbour: ‘The ger who resides with you shall be to you like a citizen of yours, and you shall love him as yourself. . . . . . .’ As far back as the sixteenth century Hayyim Vital had written (Sha’arei Kedushah, part I, gate 5) that ‘one should love all human beings (kol briyot), even Gentiles’. 27 Avraham Hayyim of Zlotchov, 1833, 39b. 28 On the merging with the shaykh (fanā’ fī’l shaykh) as a prelude to the merging with God (fanā’ fī Allāh), see Michel Boivin’s chapter in this volume. 29 The Qadiriyah sect, found by Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (1088–1166) in Baghdad, spread as far as Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, North and West Africa, India and Southeast Asia. The Naqshbandiyah was established by Baha al-Din Naqshband (d. 1388) in Bukhara and played an important role in India, China, Central Asia and the Middle East. 30 Fenton, 1994, pp. 170–9. 31 Ibid., p. 177. 32 Ibid., p. 178. Concerning the Lurianic practice of communion with deceased saints, see Fine, 2003, pp. 259–99. 33 Concerning Pure Land Buddhism see Tanaka, 1990. 34 Inagaki, 1995, p. 103. 35 Translation based on 36 Siddur Avodat ha-Kodesh, p. 74. 37 Siddur Tefillah Yeshara ve-Keter Nehora, 2011, p. 40. 38 Kol Haneshamah, 1994, p. 150. Commentary by Arthur Green.



Chapter 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Liddell et al., 1996, s.v. AP/GS I.32, see N 225. AP/GS V.22, see N 168. AP/GS V.29, N 127. AP/GS XI.105, N 274. AP/GS XII.9, see AP/G Jos Paneph, which in addition has ‘the small sýnaxis’ at the beginning of the list. AP/GS X.93, see AP/G Poimen 168. AP/G John the Short 35. AP/GS III.55. AP/GS VII.27. Barsanuphius and John, Quaestiones, Letter 143. Dorotheus Epistula 4, 189.5. Dorotheus Epistula 1, 180.8. This is hardly surprising, since texts in antiquity were normally to be read aloud and heard, also when performed in solitude. In the Sources chrétiennes edition, the French translation reads ‘Mais celui qui ne peut garder sans cesse la presence de l’esprit à Dieu doit joindre et associer la meditation et la prière des lèvres’. The addition of the word ‘prière’ is an indication of the tendency of modern translators to project modern notions of meditation on the ancient texts, in this case refusing to treat melétē as a verbal exercise. On melétē in modern translations, see Wortley, 2006. Translations from Greek are my own, unless otherwise stated. For examples in other ancient texts of learning and reciting texts that were not understood by the student, see Carr, 2005, p. 32. AP/G Achillas 5; Barsanuphius and John, Quaestiones. Letters 19, 115, 507, 517; Dorotheus, Epistula 12, 197.17. AP/G Antony 9, AP/GS XVII.2. Note that Barsanuphius, as far as we can tell from extant manuscripts of LXX, has altered the you shall talk of them (lalēseis en autoís) of the Septuagint to you shall ‘meditate’ on them (melétēson autá). There is no such variant attested in the critical apparatus of the Göttingen Septuagint, except for a citation by Theodoret of Cyrus (PG 82.620). The sense of AP/GS X.20 is similar, referring to Luke 18.13: ‘Always keep the words of the publican in your heart.’ See Luke 18.13: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ For a study on the emergence of this prayer in early monastic texts, see Johnsén’s contribution to the present volume. This idea of meditating on, or practising one’s own death is developed by Evagrius in Rerum monachalium rationes, 9. Similar instructions in Letters 154 and 226. This passage from The Letter of Barnabas is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.51.4; see 7.109.2. The same idea is expressed and developed further by Clement in Paed. 3.11.76, although the word melétē is not used. See also Terje Stordalen’s contribution to the present volume. Hieronymus, 1970, p. 55.



28 Pierre Hadot picked up on Rabbow’s conclusions without, it seems, really analysing the texts that Rabbow relied on, as shown by Newman (1989). 29 Contra Newman (1989, p. 1,476 n. 6). 30 See also Epictetus Dissertationes 2.9.18; 3.21.2f; 4.6.35. More references to the interiorization of philosophical thought in terms of digestion in pagan literature can be found in Rabbow (1954, p. 325f). 31 AP/GS III.4. 32 Barsanuphius and John, Questiones 639. 33 AP/GS VII.27; Barsanuphius and John, Questiones 256, Dorotheus Doctrinae 69.2, 90.13. 34 AP/GS V.37. 35 AP/GS XI.105. 36 John the Short 35. 37 AP/GS V.35, V.53. 38 AP/GS XII.2. 39 Dorotheus Doctrinae 105.34. 40 Dorotheus Epistula 4, 189.4–5. 41 See Epictetus, Dissertationes 1.4.18; 1.6.40; 1.17.21; 1.25.1; 2.14.7; 2.23.25; 2.23.27; 2.26.4; 3.4.9; 4.1.81. Encheridion 1; 9.

Chapter 7 1 I am grateful to Samuel Rubenson, Per Rönnegård, Lillian Larsen, Bo Holmberg, Britt Dahlman, Benjamin Ekman and David Westberg of the research programme ‘Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia’ at Lund University, for valuable comments on this chapter. 2 Here I understand meditation according to Eifring’s definition in this volume, as ‘a self-administered attention-based technique for inner transformation’. 3 There is a great number of important works on the Jesus prayer in early monasticism, for example, Adnès, 1974; Bitton-Ashkelony, 2003; Guillaumont, 1980; Hausherr, 1960; Regnault, 1974; Stewart, 1998; Ware 1985, 1986. 4 I will mainly look at the tenth conference (and to some extent the ninth) of John Cassian’s Conlationes (‘Conferences’), where we have John Cassian’s most elaborate discussion of unceasing prayer. See also Stewart, 1984, 1998. 5 For the Jesus prayer in Diadochus of Photike, see for example, des Places, 1966; Ware, 1985. Another early witness that will not be considered here is Nilus of Ancyra (fifth century), see Epistulae 2.140 (PG 79.260ab; 261d); 2.214 (312 cd); 3.273 (520b); 3.287 (521bc). The authenticity of the letters is somewhat uncertain, see Cameron, 1976. 6 For the Jesus prayer in John Climacus, see, for example, Chryssavgis, 1986, 2004; Ware, 1982. 7 Philo of Alexandria (d. c. 40 ce), who will be of some importance concerning the ‘remembrance of God’, was a Middle Platonist and not a Stoic. 8 This has been contested regarding Diadochus, but the contestations have been rightly refuted by Kallistos Ware, see Ware, 1985, pp. 560–2. 9 See, for example, 1 Thess 5.17. 10 See, for example, Adnès, 1974, pp. 1127–9; Guillaumont, 1980, p. 290; Hausherr 1960, pp. 174–5, 209–210; Stewart, 1998, pp. 100–13.



11 For Greco-Roman philosophy and early monasticism in recent scholarship, see Rubenson, 2012. 12 Hausherr, 1960, pp. 156–62; Sieben, 1980, pp. 1407–11, 1413. 13 Hausherr 1960, p. 170 (trans. Cummings, 1978): ‘un surtout prélude à la melétè des Pères’. 14 See, for example, Adnès, 1974; Guillaumont, 1980, pp. 289–90; Stewart 1998, pp. 102–4. Stewart notes the use of melétē in Stoic philosophy, but does not seem to indicate any real connection with the monastic practice. 15 Augustine, Epistula 130.20 (ed. Goldbacher, 1904). 16 For common prayers in early monasticism, see, for example, Patrich, 1995, ch. 4. 17 See, for example, John Cassian, Conlationes 10.10.14 (ed. Petschenig, 1886). 18 See Rönnegård’s contribution to this volume; Bacht, 1955; Wortley, 2006, pp. 322–3. 19 See also, for example, AP/G Apollo 2 (PG 79.133); The Virtues of Saint Macarius 35 (ed. Amélineau, 1894): meletē (probably from seventh or eighth century; in Coptic). 20 Conlationes 10.10.14 (trans. Ramsey, 1997). See also 10.10.2: incessabili. . . . . . meditari; 10.10.15: omni tempore; 10.11.1: iugi meditatione, see also 10.10.1. 21 Capita centum 59 (ed. des Places, 1966; trans. Palmer et al., 1979–95, vol. 1, modified). See also Capita centum 61. 22 Capita centum 97. 23 Scala paradisi 20.20 (PG 88.941c). 24 Scala paradisi 4.15 (685ab). See also 4.36 (700d); 6.16 (797c). 25 Scala paradisi 18.6 (933d). 26 Scala paradisi 26c.65 (1092b). 27 Scala paradisi 27.61 (1112c). For breathing, see the discussion below. 28 aperispástōs, epimónōs, adialeíptōs, ennáou, apaústōs, see, for example, Scala paradisi 28.25 (1133c); 28.27 (1133d); 28.29 (1136a); 28.31 (1136ab); 28.60 (1140ab). 29 Conlationes 10.10.14. See also 10.10.1; 10.10.2: iugem dei memoriam; 10.10.15: omni tempore; 10.11.1: iugi meditatione. 30 Capita centum 59; 85: apaústōs; 88: ápauston; 97: érgon ápauston. 31 Scala paradisi 18.5 (933d) and 21.7 (945c). See also 27.60–62 (1112c); 28.31 (1136ab). 32 See Rydell Johnsén, 2007, pp. 30–122. 33 Scala paradisi 28.5–11 (1129d–1132b); 28.19 (1132d). 34 Scala paradisi 28.26–31 (1133c–1136b); 28.60–63 (1140ab). 35 See also Luke 18.1: pántote proseúchesthai. 36 See, for example, Scala paradisi 28.29 (1136a). 37 Origen, De oratione 12.2 (ed. Koetschau, 1899). 38 See Wortley, 2006, pp. 322–3, and Rönnegård’s contribution to this volume. 39 See, for example, Regnault, 1974; Ware, 1986, pp. 176–7. 40 Conlationes 10.10.14; 10.10.2; 10.10.15; 10.11.1; Capita centum 59, 61, 97. For other early sources, see also, for example, AP/G Apollo 2 (PG 65.136a); The Virtues of Saint Macarius 35 (ed. Amélineau, 1894): meletē (in Coptic). 41 Capita centum 59: Kyrios Jēsous; 61: tó Kýrie Iēsoú. 42 See Barsansuphios and John, Quaestiones et Responsiones 175: Kýrie Iēsoú Christé eléēsón me (ed. Neyt and Angelis-Noah, 1997–8). 43 Queastioens et Responsiores 39: Iēsoú boēthei moi. 44 Prayers addressed to Jesus Christ was not uncommon in the early church prior to the emergence of early monasticism (see, for example, Hausherr, 1960, pp. 180–7), but the repetitive use of such prayers seems to originate with early monasticism. 45 Ware, 1986, p. 177. See also, for example, Adnès, 1974, p. 1129; Regnault, 1974.



46 See Regnault, 1974. There is a variety even in Gaza in the sixth century, even though we find versions closer to the classical formula. See also Hausherr, 1960, pp. 187–97. For other early versions see, for example, AP/G Elias 7 (PG 54.184d–185a); Nilus of Ancyra, Epistula 2.140 (PG 79.260ab); 2.214 (ibid., 312 cd); 3.273 (ibid., 520bc); The Virtues of Saint Macarius 13, 34, 35, 41, 42, 44. See also Grillmeyer and Hainthaler, 1996, pp. 184–9. Short formulas have also been found in seventh–eighth-century inscriptions in monastic settlements in Egypt, see, for example, Guillaumont, 1979. 47 Scala paradisi 4.112 (721d–724b). 48 Scala paradisi 21.7 (945c): Iēsoú onómati (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979). 49 Scala paradisi 15.54 (889cd) (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified). See also the reference to Iēsoú hē proseuchē in 9.10 (841c). 50 See Bartelink, 1980. 51 Scala paradisi 14.32 (869a); 4.112 (721d–724b); 27.61 (1112c). For breathing see below. 52 Scala paradisi 28.10 (1132b). 53 Scala paradisi 28.19 (1132d). See also 28.5 (1129d); 28.10 (1132b). 54 See, for example, AP/G Achillas 5 (PG 54.125ab); and Wortley, 2006, pp. 317–21, 325–7, and Rönnegård’s contribution to this volume for further references. 55 Besides the references below, see also Virtues of Saint Macarius 41: ‘words welling up from your lips’ (trans. Vivian, 2004); 42. 56 Capita centum 61: sygkrázousan, see also Capita centum 59, 61, where analogies implying that something is uttered are used to explain the practice. 57 See Lewis and Short, 1879, decanto, s.v. Decanto usually implies a sound in meanings like, for example, to sing, to repeat in a singing manner, to recite or to play (upon an instrument). 58 Conlationes 10.10.14 (trans. Ramsey, 1997, modified): decantare non desinas. See also 10.10.15: decantare; decantatio. 59 Scala paradisi 28.19 (1132d), see 28.17 (1132cd). 60 Methodos tēs hieras proseuchēs kai prosochēs, p. 164 (ed. Hausherr, 1927). The dating of the text is debated. Traditionally it has been attributed to Symeon the New Theologian in the tenth–eleventh century, but Irénée Hausherr has questioned the attribution and argued for a dating as late as in the early fourteenth century, see Hausherr, 1927, pp. 133–4. 61 See Chryssavgis, 2004, pp. 230–1; Hausherr, 1960; Ware, 1982, pp. 49–50. 62 There is also a clear reference to breathing in The Virtues of Saint Macarius 42, which might be more or less contemporary (perhaps seventh–eighth century) with Climacus. Here the Jesus prayer is said to be something that one should ‘say with each breath’ (ejos kata še pnifi). For dating, see Guillaumont, 1974. 63 Trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified. 64 Ibid. 65 Ibid. 66 As mentioned above, there is also a notable parallel but of somewhat uncertain date in Coptic in The Virtues of Saint Macarius 42, see note 62 above. 67 Sententiae Sexti 289: tón Theón . . . . . . anápnei (ed. Chadwick, 1959); Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives salvetur 26.6: Théon anapneín (ed. Früchtel et al., 1970). 68 Origen, Fragmenta in Lamentationes 116: tón Christón anapnéousi (ed. Klostermann, 1901).



69 Vita Antonii 91: tón Christón aeí anapnéete (ed. Bartelink, 2004). 70 Gregory of Nazianz, De moderatione in disputando 21 (PG 36.197): tá toú Pneúmatos . . . anápnei. 71 One exception is Gregory of Nazianz, Oratio 27.4 (PG 36.16b), where anapneúō is a verbal adjective with God as objective genitive. 72 Scala paradisi 28.23 (1133b) (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979). 73 Scala paradisi 15.81 (900cd) (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified), see also 28.23 (1133b); 25.58 (1000d). 74 See Furley, 1984; Temkin, 1977. For Galen, see, for example, De usu respirationis 5.4: ‘the heart . . . . . . has need of breathing to the same extent that we ourselves need regulation of heat. . . . . . . The breathing through the arteries [sic!] is enough for all other members, but for the brain and the heart two special organs of breathing are provided; for the first, the nostrils; for the second, the lung’ (ed. and trans. Furley and Wilkie, in Furley and Wilkie, 1984). Considering his whole corpus, Galen is, however, ambiguous regarding in what sense air passes from the lungs to the heart, see Temkin, 1977, pp. 154–61. For the role of Galen in early Byzantine medicine, see Duffy, 1984. 75 Conlationes 10.14.3 (trans. Ramsey, 1997). See also 10.12; 10.10.2. 76 See Conlationes 10.10.2; 10.12: dei memoriam; Capita centum 61: toú Kyríou Iēsoú mnēmē and Iēsoú mnēmē; Scala paradisi 27.61 (1112c): Iēsoú mnēmē. For ‘remembrance of God’, see Sieben, 1980. 77 Capita centum 59. 78 Capita centum 61 (trans. Palmer et al., 1979–95, vol. 1, modified), see also 59; 97. See also Ware, 1985, pp. 563–5. 79 Scala paradisi 28.31 (1136ab) (trans. Holy transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified). See also 28.29 (1136a), 28.60 (1140ab), 28.10 (1132b), 28.17 (1132cd). 80 Scala paradisi 28.10 (1132b). See also 28.17 (1132cd). 81 Conlationes 10.12; 10.10.2. See also 10.14.3. 82 Capita centum 59 (trans. Palmer et al., 1979–95, vol. 1, modified). See also Capita centum 88; 97, and Ware, 1985, pp. 563–5. 83 Scala paradisi 14.32 (869a) (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified). 84 Diadochus, Capita centum 59 (trans. Palmer et al., 1979–95, vol. 1, modified), see also Capita centum 97. 85 Capita centum 85; 33 (demons, evils); 31 (deceptions); 88; 97 (worldly thoughts). 86 Capita centum 31. 87 Capita centum 97. See also Ware, 1985, pp. 562, 566. 88 Conlationes 10.10.11 (distractions, wandering thoughts, fantasies); 10.11.1 (thoughts); 10.10.14; 10.11.4 (demons). 89 Conlationes 10.10.3 (trans. Ramsey, 1997). 90 See also Conlationes 10.10.14; 10.11.1. It is notable that John Cassian also underscores the need to purge oneself from passions as a preparation for unceasing prayer, see, for example, Conlationes 9.2–6. 91 Scala paradisi 28.19 (1132d). 92 Scala paradisi 28.10 (1132b). 93 Scala paradisi 28.63 (1140bc); 18.5 (933bc); 21.7 (945c). See also 15.53–54 (889cd). 94 Scala paradisi 18.5 (933bc); 21.7 (945c). 95 Scala paradisi 28.10 (1132b). See also less clear statements in 28.21 (1133a); 28.25 (1133c). 96 Scala paradisi 28.31 (1136ab).



97 Conlationes 9.2.1–2: inmobilem tranquillitatem mentis; 10.14.3: cordis atque animae puritatem. 98 Scala paradisi 27.61 (1112c) (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979, modified). 99 See, for example, Conlationes 10.11.1–3; 10.10.14; Capita centum 59; Scala paradisi 28.19 (1132d). See also Ware, 1985, pp. 566–8. 100 For a general definition of melétē and for its development, see Rabbow, 1954; Hieronymus, 1970 and Rönnegård’s contribution to this volume. 101 See, for example, Salem, 2009, pp. 15–16, 39–41. See also memorization and meditatio of a rhetorical speech in Quintillian, Institutio oratioria 11.2 (ed. Russel, 2001). 102 For Epicureanism, see, for example, I. Hadot, 1969, pp. 52–4; Nussbaum, 1994, pp. 132–3; Salem, 2009, pp. 15–16, 39–44; for Stoicism, see, for example, ArmisenMarchetti, 2004–5; I. Hadot, 1969, pp. 55–60; Newman, 1989. 103 See Newman, 1989, p. 1,476. 104 Epistula 16.1 (ed. Gummere, 1917–25); De beneficiis 7.2.1 (ed. Basore, 1928–35). See also Armisen-Marchetti, 2004–5, p. 162. For melétē as a daily practice in Stoic meditation in general, see Newman, 1989, p. 1,475. 105 Epistula 16.1; De ira 3.41.1 (ed. Basore, 1928–35). For a constant and repetitive practice in Stoic meditation in general, see Newman, 1989, pp. 1,475, 1,480. For Epicureanism, see Salem, 2009, pp. 16, 39–41. 106 For a repetitive and prolonged (diu) practice, see Epistula 71.31; subinde: Epistula 94.26; saepe: 94.52. 107 De beneficiis 7.1.3–4 (trans. Basore, 1928–35). 108 Epistula 2.4. For digestion, see also Epictetus, Dissertationes 3.21.1–3 (ed. Schenkl, 1916). 109 Epistula 71.31. 110 Newman 1989: 1,493–4, see also 1,475; 1,484; 1,498. 111 Epistula 11.8; 94.26–8; 94.43. 112 Epistula 94.43 (trans. Gummere, 1917–25); see also 94.26–8. Epictetus refers to a short concise rule or principle (kanōn) instead of a sententia, see, for example, Dissertationes 4.4.29. 113 See Armisen-Marchetti, 2004–5, p. 164; Newman, 1989, p. 1,480. See also Epictetus, Dissertationes 3.24.103. 114 Epistula 15.7–8 (trans. Gummere, 1917–25). See also Epistula 54.6. 115 Epistula 94.47: sententiae familiariter in animum receptae. See also Epistula 94.43: saepe tecum sint; 71.31: alte descendit et diu sedit; 7.11: condenda in animum. For interiorization in Stoic meditation in general, see Newman, 1989, pp. 1,475–6. For Epicureanism, see Salem, 2009, pp. 16–17. 116 Epistula 16.1: firmandum et altius cotidiana meditatione figendum; 11.8: affigere; De beneficiis 7.2.1: adfigere. 117 Epistula 71.31: infecit. 118 Epistula 71.30; 94.26; De beneficiis 7.13.4; 7.2.1. See also Epistula 16.1 and Newman, 1989, p. 1,476. 119 Newman, 1989, p. 1,475. 120 See notes 86, 87 and 89 above, see also Institutiones 2.13 (Guy, 1965). 121 For the importance of compunction, see, for example, Hausherr, 1960, pp. 219–34. 122 See Newman, 1989, pp. 1,486–8.

Notes 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136

137 138


Armisen-Marchetti, 2004–5, pp. 161–79, esp. 166; see also Seneca, Epistula 94.47–8. Epistula 2.4; 16.1. De ira 3.41.1; 2.12.6. Epistula 16.1. Brakke, 2006, pp. 38–41, esp. 40; see also Brown, 1989, pp. 53–4. There is an ideal of remembering God in the Old Testament as well, and this is likely in some sense behind the ‘remembrance of God’ in Philo (see Sieben, 1980, pp. 1,408, 1,413–14), but the notion as such is not found in the Old Testament. Meditations 6.7. 1 (ed. Farquharson, 1944): mnēmē theoú. See also 10.8.4: tó memnēsthai theōn. Boccaccini, 1991, pp. 201–5. De vita contemplativa 26 (ed. Cohn and Reiter, 1915). For Philo and ‘remembrance of God’, see Boccaccini, 1991, pp. 191–205. For the therapeutae, see Guillaumont, 1979, pp. 25–37. Sieben, 1980, pp. 1,407–11, 1413. See also Hausherr, 1960, pp. 156–62 and Boccaccini, 1991, pp. 191–4. For further references, see Sieben, 1980. Boccaccini, 1991, pp. 204–5. See Adnès, 1974; Guillaumont, 1980, pp. 289–90. See, for example, Adnès, 1974, pp. 1,127–9; Guillaumont, 1980, p. 290; Hausherr 1960, pp. 174–5, 209–10; Stewart, 1998, pp. 100–13. For memorization and melétē, see, for example, Epictetus, Dissertationes 1.30.5; 2.2.25; I. Hadot 1969, pp. 55–60; P. Hadot, 1995, pp. 85–6; Salem, 2009, pp. 16–17, 39–44. See also Quintillian’s discussion of meditatio and memory in Institutio oratoria 11.2 (ed. Russel, 2001). For repetition and rumination related to ‘remembrance of God’, see Boccaccini, 1991, pp. 198–202. See Newman, 1989, p. 1481, with reference to Epictetus, Dissertationes 3.24.95–102.

Chapter 8 1 See the text of Simeon the Graceful in Mingana, 1934, pp. 188b–189a. 2 Isaac of Nineveh discusses the ambiguity in homily 22 (Bedjan’s Syriac text), regretting that the same word is used for two different things, the standard form of prayer in which God is addressed with verbal requests (often with selfish motives), and the ‘pure prayer’ or ‘spiritual prayer’ that includes no petition. 3 Sebastian Brock (1999) has used the concept of ‘geography of the spirit’ to describe the art of comprehending the inner space in the Syriac mystical tradition. 4 Bedjan, 1909, p. 122. The use of šeragrāgyātā may be negative in Syriac authors under Greek influence; for example, Philoxenus of Mabbug in Lavenant, 1963,  90, 92, 105 (pp. 834–7, 848–9). 5 As defined in my earlier study (Seppälä, 2003, p. 78). 6 Simon in Mingana, 1934, pp. 53–4 (191a–191b). 7 John of Dalyatha; Syriac text and translation in Hansbury, 2006, pp. 272–3. 8 Concentration in the sense of abandonment of worldly thoughts is in fact a prerequisite of prayer in general, and applies to all Christians; see Barhebraeus in Teule, 1993a, pp. 10–14 (trans., Teule 1993b, pp. 9–12). 9 Teule, 1993a, p. 11 (trans., Teule 1993b, p. 10).



10 ‘Especially, when it receives a small part of the sweetness of prayer, then, it climbs higher than anything on earth and heaven and [they know] that it hurries to wonder only at its Lord and to converse with him.’ Teule, 1993a, p. 11 (trans., Teule 1993b, p. 10). 11 St. Ephrem (d. 373) in his Paradise Hymns gives a vivid, detailed and psychologically accurate description of the meditative process between the reading of the Scriptures and the spiritual rapture resulting from it: ‘Scripture brought me to the gate of Paradise / and the mind, which is spiritual / stood in amazement and wonder as it entered / the intellect grew dizzy and weak / as the senses were no longer able to contain its treasures /so magnificent they were / or to discern its savours / and find comparison for its colours / or take in its beauties so as to describe them in words.’ Hymnen de Paradiso 6.2 (Syriac original in Beck, 1957; translation according to Brock, 1990, p. 109). 12 A Letter sent to a Friend is attributed to Philoxenus of Mabbug, but most likely written by Joseph the Seer, or someone from the seventh–eighth century East Syrian tradition. Olinder, 1950, p. 22 (16*). 13 Isaac of Nineveh states that a monk may define as his rule ‘enthusiasm for inner meditations (hergay mad`eh)’. Bedjan, 1909, p. 98. 14 A Letter sent to a Friend. Olinder, 1950, p. 22 (16*). 15 Simon in Mingana, 1934, 169b, p. 289 (tr. 20). 16 Olinder, 1950, p. 22 (16*). 17 Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, 14.38 (1995a, pp. 68–9, 1995b, p. 79). 18 Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, 14.34–5 (1995a, pp. 67–8, 1995b, pp. 77–8). However, this does not mean individual arbitrary freedom where one follows his emotional impulses alone. Nor does Isaac mean that there was something wrong with the traditional forms of spirituality in the Church. On the contrary, those who ‘abandoned prayer’s venerable outward forms, turning instead to their own rules and special customs’ have gone astray because they have neglected Holy Communion, and the teachings of the Fathers (Brock, 1995ab, 14.42). 19 Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, 14.35 (1995a, pp. 67–8, 1995b, p. 78). 20 de Halleux, 1960–5, 8.51. 21 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 43. 22 Mingana translated this as ‘spiritual visions’. 23 Dadišo‛ in Mingana, 1934, 53b, p. 245 (trans. p. 139). 24 Dadišo‛ in Mingana, 1934, 21b, p. 219 (trans. p. 101). 25 de Halleux, 1960–5, 8.51. 26 The eye of the mind and that of the soul are used interchangeably. 27 de Halleux, 1960–5, 8.52, 8.55. 28 For example, Teule, 1993a, pp. 54–6, 1993b, pp. 46–7. 29 Barhebraeus in Teule, 1993a, p. 54, 1993b, p. 46. (Quoting Evagrius, Tractatus ad Eulogium, PG 79, 1105 A.) 30 For Dadišo‛ on the cross, see Mingana, 1934, pp. 136–8; for Stephanos bar Sudhaile, see Marsh, 1927, 35, pp. 45–59; for Isaac of Nineveh, see Bedjan, 1909, p. 16; Brock, Chapter 11 (1995a, pp. 43–52, 1995b, pp. 53–62). 31 Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, Chapter 11 (1995a, pp. 43–52, 1995b, pp. 53–62). According to Isaac, the same shekhina that was in the Ark of the Covenant resides mysteriously in the Cross. 32 A Letter Sent to a Friend in Olinder, 1950, p. 32 (24*).



33 Dadišo‛ in Mingana, 1934, 52b–53a, p. 244 (tr. 138). The verse may seem to imply that the venerated image shows Christ crucified on the Cross. This, however, was unlikely in the seventh–eighth-century East, where crosses were usually depicted empty. It may well be that the notion refers to Christ in symbolic terms: the monk kisses an empty cross as if Christ himself (i.e. not his image!) was invisibly present on the cross. The eternal presence of Christ in the empty cross was also stressed in the Armenian tradition. 34 A Letter Sent to a Friend in Olinder, 1950, p. 26 (19*). 35 John of Ephesus (sixth century) gives a vivid description of a Syrian monk in prayer and prostrations. ‘And, because intense noonday heat prevailed, he stood and prayed, and next he knelt down, and he stood up and stretched out his hands to heaven, expanding himself in the form of the cross; and he continued for a long time until about the ninth hour, and then he sat down to rest for a short time.’ John of Ephesus, in Brooks, 1923, p. 132. 36 Isaac of Nineveh’s homilies 12, 22 and 51 in Bedjan, 1909. 37 Simon in Mingana 1934, 169a–169b, pp. 288–9 (tr. 20). 38 For example, Isaac of Nineveh’s homily 26 in Bedjan, 1909. 39 For example, Isaac of Nineveh’s homilies 22, 51 and 56 in Bedjan, 1909. 40 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 123. The word haggāgā (pl. haggāgē) usually refers to imagination, even illusions. 41 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 555. 42 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 257. 43 Literally, ‘to mix with God’. Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 462. 44 John of Dalyatha in Beulay,1978, 38.4. 45 Quotations are from John’s letter 38.3–4, according to the translation of Hansbury 2006. 46 For example, ‘. . . when left alone, He does not stay. When He goes with me to a place, He does not move from the place. But when I catch Him, He is full of sweetness. Then when I let Him go, He conceals Himself.’ (Beulay, 1978, 38.4) 47 Mingana translates ‘souls of the just departed’. 48 Dadišo‛ in Mingana, 1934, 23a–23b, pp. 220–1 (tr. 104; for more detailed instructions on prayer and meditations, see pp. 136–41). 49 For example, Isaac of Nineveh’s homilies 11, 13 and 17 in Bedjan, 1909. 50 For example, Isaac of Nineveh’s homily 4 in Bedjan, 1909, and Brock, 1995a, b, 10.11. 51 For example, Isaac of Nineveh’s homilies 5, 9, 17 in Bedjan, 1909. 52 See Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 138. 53 For example, Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, 1995a, b, 29.2, and homily 41 in Bedjan, 1909. 54 de Halleux, 1960, 3.151. 55 Isaac of Nineveh. See homily 35 in Bedjan, 1909. 56 Isaac of Nineveh in Brock, 1995a, b, 8.17. See also homily 53 in Bedjan, 1909. 57 Simon in Mingana, 1934, 173a, pp. 292–3 (trans. 26). 58 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 492. 59 Isaac of Nineveh in Bedjan, 1909, p. 486. 60 See Isaac of Nineveh’s homily 1 in Bedjan, 1909. 61 See Isaac of Nineveh’s homily 53 in Bedjan, 1909. 62 For an illustrative discussion on the corresponding phenomenon in Buddhist context, see Gimello, 1978. 63 Mingana 1934/‛Abdišo‛, 144b–145a, p. 263 (tr. 150).



64 For example, Isaac of Nineveh states that meditation leads to illumination; Brock, 1995a, b, 10.8. 65 Beulay, 1978, 4.9 (pp. 318–9). 66 The concept was used by Aryeh Kaplan in his discussion on Jewish mysticism with special attention to Ezekiel’s panoscopic vision. See Kaplan, 1985, p. 35. 67 John of Dalyatha in Beulay, 1978, 13.1. English translation according to Hansbury, 2006, 64.

Chapter 9 1 There exist two numbering systems for Eckhart’s sermons, one by Pfeiffer and one by Quint. Walshe, 1979, uses the former, Colledge and McGinn, 1981, the latter. I have followed the text from which I quote, hence using the Quint system in Sermons 5b, 12 and 86, and the Pfeiffer system elsewhere. 2 Denys Turner (1995, p. 166ff) develops more fully this conceptualization of incarnation in the thought of Meister Eckhart. 3 Meister Eckhart often takes liberties in his translation of scriptural text. The actual text coming from Wisdom 18.14 reads: ‘For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne’ (Revised Standard Version). 4 Eckhart’s notion of ‘living without a why’ can be found in many of his vernacular sermons. Sermon 5b in Colledge and McGinn, 1981, pp. 183–4, offers the Meister’s basic approach to this concept. 5 Eckhart references ‘Ecclesiasticus’, which in most contemporary biblical translations today is ‘The Book of Sirach’. In Latin the quote reads: ‘Qui audit me, non confundetur: et qui operantur in me, non peccabunt.’ 6 The cura monialium is the Latin term for the pastoral care of women’s religious communities. The Dominican friars had a long history of providing clerics for the sacramental and spiritual care of their own cloistered Dominican sisters, other cloistered religious women, as well as such lay pious women groups as the Beguines. Eckhart was assigned to this ministry between 1313–23/24, after his second term in the external Dominican chair at the University of Paris and before the more formal investigation into his teaching by the Cologne inquisition and eventually the Papal inquisition at Avignon between 1326–8. 7 In 1318, while stationed in Strassburg, Meister Eckhart wrote his Book of Divine Consolation. This was a pastoral treatise dealing with the problem of suffering and was written in Middle High German. In the third section of this work Eckhart concludes with a defence of his own teaching and teaching praxis indicating that he was already feeling some pressure from church authorities concerning his own orthodoxy. 8 In Sermon 12, Eckhart identifies the vünkelin, which is the Middle High German word often translated as the spark, or the ‘something uncreated in the soul’. Eckhart develops this concept throughout his writings and sermons. It was one of the concepts that most raised concerns when Eckhart was summoned before the inquisition. 9 If Sermon 12 was delivered in September 1325, Eckhart was already by this time well aware of suspicions being raised concerning the orthodoxy of his preaching, so beginning a sermon with the loose translation of confundetur as ashamed, and encouraging his listeners to not be ashamed to ‘hear’ what he has to preach, could indicate something of that awareness.



Chapter 10 1 For the original text of Teresa’s works, see Llamas et al., 1994. 2 Teresa uses the term ‘mysteries’ to refer to the actions by which God reveals himself within human history. The most central Christian mysteries are the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 3 Hundersmarck, 1983. 4 Andres, 1976. 5 ‘Suspension of the faculties’ is a traditional term for a prayer experience in which interior absorption is so intense that all ordinary human sensing, thinking, feeling and movement become impossible. 6 Teresa of Avila, Vida 23.12; de Laredo, 1948, vol. 2, III, p. 27. 7 de la Cruz, 1969; Mommaers, 2003, p. 69. 8 Giles, 1981, pp. 131–2. 9 Andres, 1972, p. 32; Peers, 1952, p. 123. 10 References in this chapter to ‘active’ and ‘passive’ forms of prayer derive from this distinction between intentional, self-directed representations and representations that are experienced as arising from sources other than one’s own intentions. 11 See Payne, 1990. 12 Howells, 2002, p. 81. 13 During Teresa’s lifetime there was much controversy over the distinction between the orthodox ‘recollected ones’ [recogidos], and the allegedly heretical ‘abandoned ones’ [dejados], who stripped away not only thoughts but the humanity of Jesus, the teaching of the Church and basic morality in favour of ‘abandoning’ themselves to formless mysticism. 14 The language of ‘acquired’ and ‘infused’ prayer does not come from Teresa, but it has become traditional for distinguishing between prayer as active practice and prayer as grace of God. 15 See Howells, 2002, chs 5 and 6, for a thorough discussion of this.

Chapter 11 1 I would like to thank John O’Malley SJ (Georgetown University), Nicolas Standaert SJ (Leuven University) and Halvor Eifring for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter. 2 In some – mainly Eastern (Orthodox) – traditions, such meditation was constant, practised during all activities, while in others – mainly Western (Catholic) – ones, specific times were set aside for such practices. 3 On the Devotio Moderna, see Debongnie, 1957. 4 The key text developed by this reform movement was itself entitled Imitatio Christi. The published version – no doubt derived from a collection of various texts by various authors – is attributed to Thomas à Kempis. 5 On Catholic meditation, see ‘Méditation’, in Viller et al., 1932–95, vol. 10.1 (1978), cols 906–34. On contemplation, see ibid., vol. 2.2, cols 1718 ff. 6 All citations will be made from the first edition, Richeome, 1611. My thanks to AnneBérangère Rothenburger, formerly librarian responsible for the fonds patrimoniaux, Bibliothèques d’Amiens Métropole, for her assistance in an initial stage of this research.



7 Hitherto it has generally been assumed that the book was written for novices at the Jesuit noviciate on the Quirinal in Rome, but the language (French) and place of publication (Lyons) makes this highly unlikely, especially since, by this date, French novices trained in noviciates in France. Moreover, Richeome’s own career at this point makes it most likely that he was originally writing for the new noviciate at Lyons, whose foundation he had recently overseen. For further details see Loach, 2012. 8 For illustrations, refer to the 1611 edition, for which a digitized version is available at 9 Translations are the author’s own throughout. 10 Ignatius prescribed ‘some passages from the Imitation of Christ, or from the Gospels, and from the Lives of the Saints’ (Spiritual Exercises, no. 100). 11 For example de la Hire, 1682, in-12º, or Tassin, 1688, in-12º. 12 For historic etymology here and elsewhere in this paper, reference has been made to for Jean Nicot, Thresor de la langue françoyse, tant ancienne que moderne (1606); Dictionnaire de l’Académie Françoise (1st edn: 1694); and Émile Littré: Dictionnaire de la langue française (1872–7), which gives historic meanings. 13 For example, Theophilus, Argin and Thrasyllas (pp. 338–441), and types of illness, moral (pp. 287–91), natural (pp. 296–8) and imaginary (pp. 418–21). 14 Richeome, 1611, pp. 56–7. 15 Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 1: First Annotation: ‘by the title Spiritual Exercises is meant every method of examining the conscience, of meditating, of contemplating, of praying vocally and mentally, and of other spiritual activities.’ 16 The clearest introduction to this Ignatian concept of ‘composition of place’ is an essay by a Jesuit academic writing for practising Catholics, in the British Jesuits’ own magazine, The Way (nevertheless based on the latest academic publications): Standaert, 2007. For a more extended, and more philosophical, analysis of the concept, see a revised version of a doctoral thesis, Fabre, 1992. 17 Richeome, 1611, p. 2. 18 Ibid., pp. 1–23. 19 Ibid., p. 3. 20 ‘contemplez ce tableau’: Ibid., p. 5 21 Ibid., p. 5. 22 Ibid. 23 Section 2 : ‘How St Andrew spoke to Argaeus, Proconsul of Achaia’ (ibid., pp. 6–9) ; Section 3 : ‘Discussion about the sacrifice of the holy Mass’ (pp. 10–12) ; Section 4 : ‘St Andrew put in prison, and condemned to the cross’ (pp. 12–14). 24 Ibid., pp. 14–15. 25 Ibid., p. 15. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid., p. 17. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid., pp. 17–21. 30 Ibid., p. 19. This affective description continues to the end of the section, midway through p. 21. 31 Ibid., pp. 47–62. 32 Nadal, 1595. For further information see Melion, 2003. The resemblance to Nadal is in fact most marked in Richeome’s final engraving (‘The Martyrdom of St. Vitalius’, p. 690), since this, like Nadal’s, has individual elements labelled with letters, each of which corresponds to a section within the text.



33 In 1605 the Jesuits in Rome had printed 2,000 copies of an image of Stanislas for the dedication of the painting fixed above his tomb, and these were all taken up within two days (Bailey, 2003, pp. 57–8). More significantly, in the context of Richeome’s Peinture Spirtuelle, Matthaus Greuter, most likely the engraver responsible for all its plates, had in 1607 engraved a tiny plate – small enough to fit inside a missal – of ‘scenes from Kostka’s life’ (my thanks to Mauro Brunello and Thomas Reddy SJ at the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Rome, for supplying me with a copy of this plate for study purposes). In addition, images of Stanislas seem to have been produced throughout Catholic Europe. For example, at least one Wierix engraving of Stanislas Kostka was available by this date (Hollstein, 2004, pp. 160–1, No. 1302, dated by Hollstein as prior to 1604 (p. 159)). 34 Moreover, all the plates appear to have been devised and executed by the same artist. Nevertheless, only the title page can actually be definitively attributed to Greuter, being signed ‘Math. Greuter f.’; the engraving on p. 242, ‘The Angels’, is signed ‘M.G.’ 35 Richeome, 1611, p. 690. 36 ‘Picture’ C represents ‘the mountain’, simply the backdrop to the scene of Vitalius’ martyrdom (see Richeome, 1611, p. 695); ‘Picture’ D represents Vitalius’ enemy, the priest of the Apollonic cult, throwing himself into the river, under the impulsion of the devils who had taken possession of him (see ibid., pp. 695–6). 37 Richeome had used several different engravers for his only other book published in Lyons with several engraved plates, the Catéchisme royal (Richeome, 1607). 38 For illustrations of Agostino Ciampelli’s paintings in the church of S. Vitale, see Bailey, 2003, Fig. 77 (the torture of St. Vitalius) and Fig. 76 (his martyrdom). See also De Marco, 2006. 39 Its full title includes the phrase ‘Reveuës par l’Autheur avant sa mort’. 40 Richeome, 1601. For more detail, and discussion, of Richeome’s usage of images in his Tableaux Sacrez, see Salliot, 2009. 41 For an illustration, see Loach, 2012, fig. 131, p. 372. 42 Significantly, this frontispiece contrasts with the Lyonese one in that the title is now in larger font than the subtitle following it, thus reversing the priority implied in the earlier edition of the book. 43 Richeome’s dependence upon Philostratus has been noted by Fumaroli, 1980, pp. 262–3; and by Dekoninck, 2005, pp. 68ff. 44 Richeome, 1601, p. 4. In this instance Richeome is actually distinguishing between Philostratus and himself, in that in Tableaux Sacrez Richeome is presenting a different kind of image, the allegorical, taking that word as a Scholastic term, that is, as one of the four ways of reading Scripture; on that see Lubac, 1959–64. 45 The work had been relatively well-known in Italy from the early fifteenth century through manuscripts, albeit in considerably variant texts. See Crescenzo, 1999, pp. 59–67. 46 For example, Claude-François Menestrier (Ms 1514, fos.10rº and 11 rº, Bibliothèque municipal de Lyon). 47 Marc Fumaroli suggested that since the 1611 Tournon edition gives the monogram ‘IHS’ on its title page, it was apparently published under Jesuit sponsorship (Fumaroli, 1980, p. 261, n. 70). I could not see that monogram on the copies I have examined, but the fact that it was specifically published for the ‘university’ means that it was published for the Jesuits’ college, since this had held the title of ‘university’ since its inauguration, due to the bull granted to the Collège de Tournon by Pope Julius III (Delattre, 1956, col. 1408).



48 de Vigenère, 1609. 49 Le Moyne, 1640. 50 de Vigenère, 1609, p. 8; see also Fumaroli, 1980, p. 261. The contemporary sense of naïf was ‘without artifice’, or else whatever ‘représente bien la vérité, qui imite bien la nature’; see, for instance, Dictionnaire de l’Académie françoise, 1694, and Littré, 1872–7. 51 Prosopopia includes personification, but also speech of an absent person, or the representation of a deceased person as if alive and present; hypotyposis is a form of description so animated and vivid as to make things not physically present seem as if they are in front of the hearer’s or reader’s eyes. 52 That such parallels might have been understood is evidenced by the format of a work by one of Richeome’s near contemporary colleagues, de Cresolles, 1620, which takes the form of conversations filled with vivid descriptions and portraits, taking place during a series of walks. 53 In the Judaeo-Christian tradition the number seven is symbolic of completeness; hence, for example, the seven days of creation, or the seven mansions in Teresa d’Avila’s Castello Interiore. The seven ‘books’ of Richeome’s Peinture Spirituelle would thus have been perceived as constituting a complete course of ‘spiritual exercises’. 54 The plate, ‘Les Jardins’ appears on p. 472 in a 790-page book. 55 Both Cicero and Quintilian referred to its use by the Hellenist poet Simonides: Cicero, De Oratore, 2, 86; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, book 11, chap. 2, sections 11–16. Roman writers also knew of it via Aristotle, notably his De Anima, book 3, and his De Memoria et reminiscencia. On the art of memory in general, from antiquity to the Renaissance, the classic text is Yates, 1966. See also Rossi, 1960. 56 Cicero, De Oratore, book 2, pp. 350–60; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, book 11, chap. 2. See also the earliest antique treatise treating the subject, and indeed treating it most fully, one formerly attributed to Cicero, Rhetorica ad Herennium, book 3. 57 Carruthers, 1990, 1998; Carruthers and Ziolkowski, 2002. 58 Bolzoni, 1995; English edition: 2001. 59 See, for example, the case of Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), one of the first Jesuit missionaries in China: Spence, 1984. 60 Paepp, 1618. 61 Ariosto, 1516, Canto 33. 62 For the fullest study on this, see Shore, 1998. 63 Several much-read authors of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries included references to mnemonic techniques drawn from antique rhetorical practice (i.e. comparable with Ariosto’s usage), for example, the Spanish Golden Age playwright Felix Lope de Vega (1562–1635). 64 The application of this epithet to Richeome was commonplace, but a specific source, and no doubt influential one, would have been Ribadeneira, 1676, pp. 572–3: ‘ut quidam eum meritò vocat, Gallicanus Cicero’ (cit. Gijsbers, 1998, p. 35). Brémond uses this epithet without citing its source (Brémond, 1929, pp. 19–20). 65 Linzeler, 1932, p. 371. 66 Hence the preponderance of Jesuits among theorists of this genre, notably Nicolas Caussin, Maximilian van der Sandt, Silvestro Pietrasanta, Claude Clément, Andrès Mendo, Henry Engelgrave, Pierre Le Moyne, Jakob Masen, Pierre Labbé and ClaudeFrançois Menestrier. 67 Richeome, 1611, p. 2. 68 Ibid., p. 690.



69 Ibid., p. 682. 70 Ibid., pp. 783–90. 71 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, Q124 (Martyrdom). Article 4: ‘Whether death is necessary for martyrdom’, notably Objection 1, Answer 1. 72 Richeome, 1611, p. 152. 73 Ibid., pp. 152–62. 74 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, Q124 (Martyrdom), Article 4, Objection 4, Answer 5. 75 Jesus’ words to his disciples, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Matt. 16, 24; Mk 8, 34; Lk. 9, 23); Luke inserts the word ‘daily’. And again, after an exhortation to leave behind all familial relationships, ‘He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10, 38); ‘Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple’ (Lk. 14, 27). 76 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, Q124 (Martyrdom), article 4. 77 Thomas Aquinas, De sensu et sensato, Tractatu II, ‘De memoria et reminiscencia’, Lectio 2. 78 Aristotle, De Anima, 3. 8 79 Richeome, 1597, p. 117. All citations will be from this edition. This reference falls within chap. 26 in all editions. 80 Ibid. 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid., pp. 118ff (chap. 27). 83 According to Aquinas, humility was the primordial Christian virtue, that is, that virtue which provided the necessary foundation for all others (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, Q161). 84 Richeome, 1597, p. 118ff (chap. 27). 85 In this his explanation of figures mystiques takes the form of an application of Aristotelian philosophy: defining and classifying these figures, then stating their causes, uses and effects.

Chapter 12 1 For further coverage on the events at Esphigmenou, see Galpin, 2003. 2 His co-editor, St Makarios Notaras of Corinth (1731–1805), will not concern us directly in this paper, but on their relationship see Karasiaridis, 2001. 3 Evagrius, On prayer 35 (trans. Casiday, 2006a, p. 190). 4 Evagrius, On prayer 67 (trans. Casiday, 2006a, p. 193). 5 Clark, 1992, pp. 4, 75–6, 84; for a critique, see Casiday, 2004. 6 For example, Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love 1.96–100 (Palmer et al., 1979–95, 2:64). 7 Nikodimos at this point refers the reader to a page in the Philokalia, where we find in the Xanthopouloi brothers’ Directions to Hesychasts 64 a reference to Maximus the Confessor. 8 See Chamberas, 1989, pp. 150–1. 9 For biographical details on Nikodimos, see Citterio, 2002, pp. 907–14 and Karasiaridis, 2001, pp. 43–55. 10 But see Citterio, 2002, pp. 908–9; Makrides, 2000; Morini, 1991.



11 Casiday, 2007, pp. 28–31. See further Podskalsky, 1991. 12 Citterio, 2000, identifies Romanites’ translation as ms. Patm. 561, but I have been unable to confirm this information and study the document. 13 See further Tsakiris, 2009, pp. 303–29. 14 Thus Scupoli, 1663, p. 79 = Combattimento Spirituale 14 (with emphasis added): ‘Secondo. E non havendone tù colpa alcuna, rivolta il pensiero agli altri tuoi falli, ed’ quail non ti hà Iddio ancora dato il castigo, nè tù, come si deve, gli hai puniti. E vedendo, che la misericordia di Dio ti cangia la pena d’essi, che sarebbe eterna, ò pure temporale, mà del Purgatorio, con una picciola presente, devi riceverla non solamente volontieri, mà con rendimento di gratie.’ 15 For the discussion of Purgatory at the council and for Mark Eugenikos’ anti-union works, see Petit, 1923 and 1927. On the Greek Church in the aftermath of the council, see Steven Runciman, 1968, pp. 109–11, 125–6. 16 Scupoli, 1663, pp. 169 and 321 = Combattimento Spirituale 30 and 55. 17 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 196 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 2.2. 18 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 164 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.45. 19 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 212 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 2.6. 20 Scupoli, 1663, p. 281 = Combattimento Spirituale 51. 21 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 182 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.52. 22 Scupoli, 1663, p. 134 = Combattimento Spirituale 23, and Nikodimos, 2007, p. 89 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.23. 23 Scupoli, 1663, pp. 116–23 = Combattimento Spirituale 21. 24 Nikodimos, 2007, pp. 99–110 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.26; that we can attribute this material to Nikodimos rather than Romanites seems likely in view of Nikodimos’ known familiarity with Maximus’ works, as demonstrated by the Philokalia. 25 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 102 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.26. 26 See Nikidimos, 2007, pp. 77–83 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.21. 27 Nikidimos, 2007, pp. 83–6 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.22. 28 Nikidimos, 2007, p. 39 n. 1 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.10. 29 Evagrius, On prayer 73: ‘When at length the mind is praying purely and imperturbably, then the demons no longer overtake it from the left, but from the right. They suggest to it the glory of God and some shape familiar from perception, so that it would seem to have attained the perfection of its goal with respect to prayer. An ascetic and knowledgeable man declared that this happens because of the passion of vainglory and the demon who, having attached himself to the area around the brain, plucks the veins’ (trans. Casiday, 2006a, pp. 192–3). 30 On the seat of the nous, see Rossi, 2000, pp. 176–8; and on the heart, ibid., pp. 218–26. 31 Nikiphoros the Monk, On Watchfulness (Palmer et al., 1979–95, 4.205); see further Rossi, 2000, pp. 262–7. 32 Vivian and Casiday, 2006, p. 59 = Letter to Nicholas §2(1); Mark’s exhortation continues throughout that section and he returns to it at Letter to Nicholas §6. 33 See Vivian and Casiday, 2006, pp. 70–4 = Letter to Nicholas §§8(5)–10(5). 34 Diekamp, 1938, pp. 109–29. See also Belting, 1994, pp. 145–6. 35 Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines 130 (Palmer et al., 1979–95, 4.248), reformatted. 36 Nikodimos, 2007, pp. 62–3 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.18. 37 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 47 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.13. 38 Nikodimos, 2007, p. 70 = Ho Aoratos Polemos 1.19. 39 Cassian, Conference 10.2(2)–5(2) (trans. Casiday, 2006b, pp. 37–40).



Chapter 13 1 By meditation I am referring to any contemplative technique intentionally undertaken with the goal of causing an interior (and perhaps also exterior) transformation; by prayer I mean any ritual behaviour performed as a means or gesture of engaging in a dialogic relationship with a deity. 2 Other references include: ‘Remember your Lord much and praise him in the early hours of night and morning’ (Q. 3.41); ‘So when you have completed the prayers then remember Allah standing and sitting and lying down’ (Q. 4.103); ‘And remember your Lord within yourself humbly and with awe and under your breath by morning and evening’ (Q. 7.205); ‘And remember your Lord when you have forgotten’ (Q. 18.25); ‘And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself with complete devotion’ (Q. 73.8); ‘And remember the name of your Lord by morning and evening’ (Q. 76.25). 3 al-Iskandari, 1961, pp. 11–12. 4 Arberry, 1977. 5 Nicholson, 1911, pp. 154–5. 6 Arberry, 1977, p. 98. 7 Gardet and Anawati, 1968, p. 201. 8 Ibid., pp. 216–17. 9 al-Iskandari, 1961, pp. 6. The passage in the Fawā’iḥ al-jamāl wa-fawātiḥ al-jalāl of Kubra reads: ‘Dhikr is a fire which neither abides nor spreads. When it enters an abode it says “It is I and no other!” and this is the meaning of lā ilāha illa’llāh. And if there is wood in the abode it burns [the wood] and it becomes fire; if there is darkness in the abode [the dhikr] becomes a light and destroys it [the darkness] and illuminates the abode; and if there is light in the abode it does not oppose it, but his light is also recollection (dhikr) and the one who recollects (dhākir) and the object of recollection (madhkūr) which abide together, light upon light’ (Meier, 1957, pp. 4–5).In his Miftāḥ al-falāḥ, Ibn ‘Ata Allah has borrowed extensively from the Fawā’iḥ of Kubra. The first three lines following his preliminary introduction (p. 6) are copied from Kubra (Meier, 1957, p. 4, sections 9 and 10). He continues with the chapter on immersions (istighrāqāt) in the Fawā’iḥ (Meier, 1957, p. 21, section 45) and proceeds from there. This obvious influence of Najm al-din Kubra on Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari throws interesting light on our understanding of dhikr ritual in the Shadhili Sufi order, notable since it would imply a significant degree of Central Asian influence on ritual practices in Syria and Egypt. 10 Simnani, Shaqā’iq al-ḥadā’iq wa-ḥadā’iq al-ḥaqā’iq, p. 77b. For a comprehensive treatment of Simnani’s thought, see Elias, 1995. Simnani’s views on dhikr are discussed in Chapter 7 of this book, sections of which are reproduced here. 11 Simnani, Tafsīr najm al-qur’ān, p. 73b. 12 A longer version of Junayd al-Baghdadi’s list appears in Kubra’s Risala ila’l-hā’im al-khā’if min lawmat al-lā’im, see Molé, 1963, pp. 23–37. See also Kubra’s al-Uṣūl al-‘ashara (Molé, 1963, pp. 15–22) and ‘Abd al-Ghafur Lari’s Persian translation (Hirawi, 1984). See Khurasani, 1989, pp. 134ff; Meier, 1957, pp. 2–3; Waley, 1991. 13 Algar, 1982, especially the sixteenth and seventeenth chapters. Simnani, al-Wārid al-shārid, pp. 34aff; Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn li-ahl al-yaqīn, pp. 4aff; Simnani, Fuṣūl al-uṣūl, MS. 1, pp. 49bff; Hirawi, 1990, pp. 279ff. The eight conditions do not appear in the same order in all texts.

260 14 15 16 17 18 19

20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44

Notes Simnani, al-Wārid ash-shārid, p. 34a. Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn, p. 4b. Simnani, Sirr bāl al-bāl li-dhawi al-ḥāl, p. 239b; Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 72a. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, pp. 72b, 164a. Ibid., p. 69b. Ibid., p. 72a. The attitude of the Sufi with regard to the soul changes at later stages along the path. The intermediate practitioner (mutawassiṭ) should befriend the soul because at this level it becomes a vehicle, serving an important purpose in progress along the Sufi path. The advanced practitioner should make sure the soul accords God his due, and guide it in the direction of piety and righteousness (ibid., pp. 72a, 110b). Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn, p. 4b. Ibid. Simnani, Khitām al-misk, p. 142a. Here Simnani is using the term ‘purification’ (ṭahāra) with the connotation of the annihilation of the self (fanā’). Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn, p. 4b. Ibid., p. 5a. Simnani, al-Wārid al-shārid, p. 34a. Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn, p. 4b. See Gramlich, 1976, pp. 401ff, where a slightly different dhikr practice attributed to Simnani is described. Simnani, Fatḥ al-mubīn, p. 5a. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 74a–b. Simnani, Mawārid al-shawārid, p. 147b. Ibid., pp. 148b–149a. In an untitled treatise, Sa‘d ad-dīn-i Hamūya (d. 1252), an important figure from the Kubrawi tradition to which Simnani belonged, states that dhikr has seven stages: (1) dhikr of the tongue; (2) dhikr of the tongue along with the heart; (3) dhikr of the heart without the tongue; (4) dhikr of the heart with the spirit; (5) dhikr of the spirit without the heart; (6) dhikr of the spirit with the inmost being (sirr); (7) dhikr of the inmost being without the spirit (Hamūya, Kitāb baḥr al-ma‘ānī, p. 120a). Simnani also refers to audition (samā’), or listening to music, in the context of his discussions on dhikr. He considers audition to be not without merit, but maintains that it contains serious pitfalls which render it dangerous for most mystics. ‘Audition is a drug which, if eaten by itself without being prepared together with other good medicines, becomes a deadly poison’ (Simnani, Fuṣūl al-uṣūl, p. 80b). Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 71a. Simnani, Fuṣūl al-uṣūl, p. 74a. Simnani, al-Wārid ash-shārid, p. 34b. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, pp. 66b, 59a, 46b. Ibid., p. 46b. Ibid., p. 100b. Elias, 1995, p. 134. Ibid. Ibid. There is a fourth formula that relates to the Realm of Divinity. This is the supreme name of God, which is unpronounceable, exalted above any form which would be comprehensible in the Human Realm and the Realm of Sovereignty. Hirawi, 1985, p. 11. Elias, 1995, 35. Ibid. Simnani, Shaqā’iq al-ḥadā’iq, p. 77a; Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 48a–b.

Notes 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

58 59


Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 48b. A translation of this work is found in Elias, 1993. Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 44b. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 103a; Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 44b. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 55a. Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 45a. Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 66b. Ibid., p. 70b. Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 45a. Ibid., p. 45b; Simnani, Najm al-Qur’ān, p. 132b. The visions described by Simnani correspond to Muslim eschatological events that are mentioned in the Qur’an and widely elaborated upon by Islamic theologians. Simnani, Risāla-yi nūriyya, p. 46a. Ibid. Bennet, 1969–70. These techniques are quoted from an anonymous Naqshbandi pamphlet in Ottoman Turkish but are found in other works as well. In this particular treatise, coloured lights are also associated with each of the subtle substances in a manner reminiscent of Simnani: the heart is associated with red, the spirit with yellow, the secret with white light, the hidden self with green and the most-hidden self with black. This chromatic imagery clearly indicates a Kubrawi influence. Keshavarz, 1998. Other forms of prayer would be submissional prayers (the ritual prayer) and petitionary prayers. For more on prayer in Islam, see Toorawa, 2010.

Chapter 14 1 For a full picture of the social world to which these masters belonged see Bashir, 2011. 2 The ‘pineal heart’ (qalb-i ṣanūbarī) refers to the physical heart itself with its pine cone-like shape. Sufi authors differentiate the physical object from the heart as a complex metaphysical symbol in Sufi theoretical discussions. For the translation of a later and somewhat different description of the Naqshbandī dhikr that is clearer about its referents to human physiology see Netton, 2000, p. 80. 3 Although the author I am citing here does not go into such details, we do know that elaborate theoretical mappings of the human form were available in the Persianate milieu. For the details of one scheme, which divides the body into subtle substances (laṭāʾif) that are correlated to elements of the cosmos as such, see Elias, 1995, pp. 81–100. 4 For citations for other versions of the Kubravī dhikr see Bashir, 2003, p. 140. 5 As reported in a later work, Naqshband’s concern with numbers in this instance pertained both to keeping track of the times one did the dhikr and the number of times the formula was repeated in a single breath (Muʿīniyān, 1977, p. 1:48). 6 A later hagiography devoted to Hamadānī gives the story differently: the author states that Hamadānī first had the dream about Muḥammad and then saw his teacher performing the dhikr when he went to him seeking an interpretation. The eventual result is the same in both versions, in that Hamadānī ends up as a disciple of Mazdaqānī (Badakhshī, n.d., fol. 349a–350a). It is worth noting that Hamadānī’s followers disputed among themselves as well regarding the master’s preference for silent or vocal dhikr (see Badakhshī, n.d., fol. 397a, 423b).



7 Sufi understanding of human beings’ extraordinary religious experiences is premised on the notion that the cosmos has an interior, more desirable aspect. To experience the interior world (bāṭin), one needs to cultivate an alternative subtle body that has senses that mimic the function of ordinary senses. The Naqshbandī practice of imprinting the master’s image on the heart constitutes a particular way of transitioning between exterior and interior senses. For details of this and other associated understandings of the body and their social ramifications see Bashir, 2011. 8 An extended account of this religious world is provided in Bashir, 2011. 9 For a good phenomenological exploration of these issues in the Sufi context see Kugle, 2007.

Chapter 15 1 The best introduction to samāʿ, although it mainly focuses on the Iranian world, is During 1988. 2 It is to be noted that during mediaeval times, the Indus Valley was known as Sindh. The name Sindh comes from a Sanskrit word Sindhu, meaning river. 3 See Mortazavi, 1988; Nicholson, 1999; Zhoukovskii, 1967. 4 Motilal Motwani has partly translated Shāh ʿAbd al-Karīm’s risalo into English (Motwani, 1979, pp. 33–60). See also Poto, 1937. 5 The notion of waḥdat al-wūjud ‘unity of being’ was coined by Ibn ʿArabī and implies an existential monism according to which human beings, having been created by God, can also be merged into God, or, in other words, reach the divine state. 6 Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273) is the famous founder of the Mevlevīs, better known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. He was also the author of mystical poetry in Persian. His Masnawī (a poetic form) is probably the most influential Sufi poetry in the non-Arab speaking Muslim world. He was obviously a source of inspiration for Shāh Laṭīf. 7 For a very comprehensive analysis of his work, see Schimmel, 1976. 8 In Modern Sindhi, secret is ḡujho. Shāh Laṭīf ’s language is difficult and very literary, sometimes using neologisms. Also, since his family originated from deltaic Sindh, Shāh Laṭīf is at times influenced by the local dialect known as laṛī, usually seen as somewhat archaic by some, and pure by others. 9 For this section devoted to contemporary Sindhi Sufi poetry, I warmly thank Dr Charu Gidwani, R. K. Talreja College, University of Mumbai, who was of great help in locating and accessing the works. 10 On dhamāl, see Abbas, 2002; Boivin, 2012; and, for an ethno-musicological approach, Wolf, 2006. 11 I do not include the female dhamāl because it is of a different nature, not related to meditation. Briefly, it is a process of exorcism resulting from the fact that a woman is possessed by a malevolent spirit, a jinn. For a description, see Boivin, 2012. 12 Bodlo Bahār is a somewhat mysterious figure. It is said that he was in Sehwan Sharif before Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar’s coming. 13 His father imām Husayn was slaughtered with his family. Laʿl Shahbāz Qalandar is his direct descendant.

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Index Page numbers in italics are figures; with ‘t’ tables; with ‘n’ are notes.  ‘Abd al-Khāliq Ghijduvānī  206 Abd Allah Alharad  72 ‘Abdišo‘ the Seer  108, 120 ‘Abdullāh Shāh Ghāzī  214 Acem Meditation  4, 233 Achillas  81 Acquaviva, Claudio  163 acquired prayer  145–7 Adamic Fall  170–1 admirer  170–1 Adnotationes et Evangelia (Nadal)  159, 160 Adonai ascent  56–8 affective prayer  140, 141–2 agents of disintegration  180 Ahavat Shalom (Love of Peace)  65 Akiba, Rabbi  34, 43 Algazi, Israel  64 ‘Ali Hamadānī  199, 204, 207, 208, 209 Altshuler, Mor  67 amidah  50–1, 54, 56–7, 58–9 analogies, Christian ascetic  85–6 anchors  232–3, 236 Andrew, St., martyrdom  157–9, 167 angels, Merkavah mysticism  35–42 annihilation  192, 195, 197, 198, 215–17, 221 Antipodeans  33–4 Aoratos Polemos (St. Nikodimos)  179–80, 184–5 Apophthegmata patrum  80 apotropaic amulets  25 Aquinas, Thomas  156, 168, 169 Ariosto  164 Aristotle  131, 169 Armisen-Marchetti, Mireille  104 Artificiosae memoriae fundamenta (Paepp)  164 ascent to heaven,  Cordovero’s Kabbalah  49–58, 60 Merkavah mysticism  37–43

ascetics,  Christian  79–92 Sufi  192–3, 214 Assyrians  108 Athonites  174, 177, 179 Atomists  131 attention  12, 236 directive/non-directive  233 audition (samā‘)  209 Augustin, M.  20 Augustine, St.  95, 125, 126, 132 autohypnosis  51 awareness practice  7 Azulai, Hayyim Yosef David  66 b (Syriac preposition)  109 Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer)  66–7, 71 Baghdadi, Majd al-din  199 Bahā’ al-Dīn Zakariyya  222 Bardes, Antimos  177 Barsanuphius of Gaza  80, 81, 82, 84, 86, 89, 90 Bayān al-‘ārifīn (Shāh Karīm)  216–17 Benedict XVI  4 Benson, Herbert  10 Bet El  64–6 Bible, ascetic meditation  82–3, 87 binah (understanding)  46–7, 48, 50, 52–3, 52t, 54, 56–9 binding to teachers,  Hasidic  68–70 see also masters Biological Psychology  232 biomedicine  232, 233 Bodlo Bāhar  222, 224 body practices  7, 8, 12 East Syrian tradition  114–15 and Eckhart  128, 130–1



Sufism,  dhikr  193–6, 198, 202, 203–5, 207 samā‘  220, 222 Book of Divine Consolation (Eckhart)  131 Book of Formation (Sefer Yesirah)  41–2 ‘Book of Meditation’  27–8 Book of Psalms  9 ‘Book of Sirach, The’  252n. 5 Book of Wisdom  125 bowl (kishtī)  24 Braarvig, Jens  18 breath/breathing  7, 8, 12, 236 Christian ascetics  98–100, 101, 105 Merkavah mysticism  41 Orthodox Christians on  181 Sufi,  dhikr practice  193–4, 205 samā‘ practice  216, 217–21 brotherhoods  see spiritual friendship Buddhism  7, 13, 73, 73–4 Cardoso, R.  232, 233 Cassian, John  94, 95–8, 100–1, 105, 184 Castillo Interior, o Las Moradas (Teresa of Avila)  145–51 Catholic Church  4, 6, 59, 115 see also Eckhart, Meister; Jesuits; Teresa of Avila caught-free  127, 129, 130, 135 Caussin, Nicolas  161, 256n. 66 Centering Prayer  237n. 4 chanting  113 samā‘  214 see also singing chasah  23 Chidester, D.  131 Chishtiyya order  216, 218, 219, 221, 224 Christianity  6t ascetic texts  79–92 East Syrian Tradition  107–21 Chrysostom, St. John  162 Cicero  164 cleaving to God  53–4, 67, 68 Clement of Alexandria  99, 243n. 25 Climacus, John  101, 105 Ladder of Divine Ascent, The  94, 96, 97–9, 100 Cloud of Unknowing, The (Anonymous)  11 clouds, and silence  54–5

coal metaphor  54 cocoon metaphor, Teresa of Avila and  147–8 colours,  and dhikr  196–8 as metaphor  52, 60 Combattimento spirituale (Scupoli)  179, 184 composition of place  157 concentration  231, 236 Christian ascetics  100 East Syrian  110–11, 115, 120 Sufi,  dhikr  208 samā‘  222 Conferences (Cassian)  94 confundetur  133 consciousness,  East Syrian  110–12, 121 Hasidic  66–7 Merkavah mysticism  41, 54 ‘states’ of  232 consolations  146 constancy  95–6, 102–3 contemplation  4 Christianity  154 ascetics  96 Contemplation-Action  128 Eastern Syrian tradition  108–10, 112, 115, 117–18, 118 Jesuit ekphrastic meditation  170 Orthodox  180, 181–3 Judaism,  Ancient Hebrew tradition  29, 30 Hasidic  7 Merkavah mysticism  42–3 see also spiritual friendship science on  231 Sufism  191, 215 Contemplation-Action  128 contemplative visualization  72–3 continuous meditation  117 contracts of association  65 Cordovero, Moshe  45–6 Adonai ascent  56–8 on cleaving to God  53–4 and Kabbalah  48–9 on meditation  49–50 nominalism  51–3 shema  55–6 on silence  54–5

Index Counter-Reformation  162, 178 Cresolles, Louis de  161, 256n. 52 Critias (Plato)  87 cross,  and Christian ascetics  84, 87 and the East Syrian tradition  9, 14, 113–15 and the Jesuits  157–9, 167–8 and Orthodox Christianity  179 crown (keter)  46–7, 48, 52, 52t, 53, 55, 57, 59 Cruz, Tomas de la  139 Csordas, Thomas  129, 130–1 Cultural Phenomenology  128–9 cultural practice, Judaism  22 Dadiṣo‘ of Qatar  108, 113, 114, 118 damam  23 dancing, Sufism  202, 209, 221–2, 224 darkness,  and dhikr  191, 198 Eckhart on  126–7, 130, 134–5 Davanger, S.  6 De Anima (Aristotle)  169 De Vita Christi (Ludolph of Saxony)  164 Dead Sea Scrolls  22, 30 death  6 Christian ascetics on  80, 84–5, 90 sleep as  41 Demetrius the Cynic  102–3 Desert Fathers and Mothers  6, 9, 12, 80, 184 detachment, Eckhart on  125, 130 Deuteronomic literature  24–5, 30 and Christian ascetics  83 Deuteronomy  65, 86 devekut (cleaving to God)  67, 68 Devotio Moderna  154 Dhamāl (dance)  221–2, 224 dhikr  5–6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 189–200 Central Asian  201–11 four-beat  198, 204–5 and meditation  210–11 and prayer  199–200 silent/vocal  190–1, 194–5, 202, 203–5, 206–7, 209, 210 see also samā‘ Diadochus of Photike  95–8, 100, 101, 105 Gnostic Chapters  94


digestion, metaphor  88, 103 din  46, 57, 58, 59 directive/non-directive attention  233 discursive prayer  140–5, 148–9 Divine light  48 Dorotheus  81, 83–4, 88–9 Dov Baer, Maggid of Mezritch  67, 68 Early Hebrew (pre-Judaic)  6, 9, 17–31 East Syrian Tradition  107–9 mystical experience  119–21 terminology  108–9 Ecclesiasticus  131 Eckhart, Meister  5, 9, 123–35 ecstatic techniques  21 East Syrian  116 Merkavah  34 Sufism  222, 224 effects of meditation  10, 49, 236 East Syrian tradition  119 science on  228 Eifring, Halvor  20, 29 Eikones (Images ou Tableaux de Platte Peinture, Les) (Philostratus)  162–3 ekphrasis  156–63, 168–71 Eliezer, Israel ben  66–7 emotions,  East Syrian tradition  118–19 Greco-Roman philosophy  104 Hasidic  67 Merkavah mysticism  37 Orthodox Christian  183, 184 Sufi,  dhikr  210 samā‘  222, 223 Encyclopædia Britannica Online, definition of meditation  231 enunciation, and Kabbalah  49, 50 Epictetus  87, 88, 89, 90–1, 104 Epicurus/Epicureanism  87, 102 Epistle of the Master (Shāāh jo risālo)  217 Epstein, Aryeh Leib  71 Erasistratus  99 Eriksen, C.W.  233 Eugenikos, Mark of Ephesus  179 Evagrius of Pontus  79–80, 82, 108 On prayer  175, 180 Praktikos  85 Vices  84

284 exorcism  262n. 11 Extramission  131–2 Eyn Sof  46–7, 55, 59 faqīrs  217, 222–4 fasting  100–1, 192, 219 feminine dimension of divinity  see shekhinah fire, and dhikr  196–7, 198 First epistle to the Thessalonians  96 fish, metaphor  127 flesh and blood  129 focus  236 self-  232 foundation (yesod)  46, 47, 48, 50, 52t, 53, 57, 58–9 four-beat dhikr  198, 204–5 Franken, H.J.  19, 20 free will  85, 89, 90, 91, 183 Fuṣuṣ al-ḥikam (Ibn ‘Arabī)  217 Galen  99 Gaultier, Léonard  162, 166 Genizah fragments  239n. 5 Gerontikon  83, 88 gevurah (din) (judgement)  46, 48, 52, 52t, 53, 58 Ghijduvānī, ‘Abd al-Khāliq  206–7 glory (tiferet)  46–7, 48, 50–1, 52, 52t, 53, 55–9 Gnostic Chapters (Diadochus of Photike)  94 God,  East Syrian meditation on  116–17 grace of  166 see also remembering/remembrance God’s indwelling  46, 47, 50, 53, 54–5, 65 ‘Golden Chain’  198 grace, God’s  166 Greco-Roman,  philosophy  94, 101–6 rhetoric  164–5 Green, Arthur  61 Gregory of Nazianz  99 Gregory of Sinai  178, 182–3 Greuter, Matthaus  255n. 33 groundless ground  127–8, 134 Gruenwald, Ithamar  40 gulūband (necklace)  223

Index Haas, Alois  131 Hadot, Pierre  88 hagah  17, 19, 22, 25, 26–7, 29, 87, 91 Hai ben Sherira  36–7, 42 Halperin, David J.  35, 36 Hannah, prayer of  22, 27 Hasid, Tsvi  70 Hasidism  7, 66–72 compared to Islam  72–3 Hausherr, Irénée  95, 246n. 60 Hayon, Rabbi Gedaliah  64 Hayyim, Avraham of Zlotshov  71–2 healing, cosmic (tikkun)  63 hearing,  Eckhart on  131–5 Sufism  223 heart,  East Syrian use of  109 Orthodox Christian use of  180, 181 Sufi use of  190, 197, 198, 208 hekhalot  34–43, 48 Hekhalot Rabbati  37–41 Hekhalot Zutarti  36 Heller, Meshullam Feibush of Zbarzh  67–70 Henry of Virneburg, Archbishop  131 Herionymus, Frank  87 hesed (lovingkindness)  46, 48, 52t, 53, 58 hesychast movement  173, 175, 176, 178 and prayer  180–4 Himmelfarb, Martha  35 Hinduism  13, 217, 220 Ho Aoratos Polemos  179–80, 184–5 hod (majesty)  46, 48, 50, 52, 52t, 53, 56, 57–8 Hoffman, J. E.  233 hokhmah (knowledge)  46–7, 48, 52–3, 52t, 55–9 Holy Writ  111 Howells, Edward  143 al-Hujwirī, ‘Ali (Dātā Ganj Bakhsh)  214–15, 221 humanism  154, 164–5, 169 Hypatius, Archbishop of Ephesus  181–2 Hyperechios, Abba  85 hypotyposis  163 Iamblichus  104 Ibn ‘Arabī  217 Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari  72, 190

Index iconoclasm  175, 184 icons,  Orthodox Christianity  174, 176, 181–2, 184 see also ekphrasis; imagination Idel, Moshe  37, 49 Ignatius Loyola, St  157, 164–5, 168, 170 illuminated mind  120–1 imagination,  and Christian ascetics  87 East Syrian  109 and Jesuit ekphrastic images  169 Jewish mysticism  37, 49 Orthodox Christianity  175–6, 180, 183–4 Sufi  208, 220 Teresa of Avila on  141 imaginative prayer  140 imitatio Christi  154, 155, 169 Imitatio Christi (Thomas à Kempis)  155 ‘in-betweenness’, Eckhart on  126, 130, 135 incarnatio continua  124, 125, 128, 130, 133, 135 indeterminacy  126–30, 133 infused prayer  145–7 ‘inner transformation’  8, 49 and Christian ascetics  91 Judaism  29 Sufism  223 Institute of Scientific Information  228, 229–30, 233 instruments, musical  217, 219, 220, 222 interiorization of attitudes  100–1, 102 Greco-Roman philosophy  103 Intromission  131–2 introspection  181, 216 invisibility  37 inwardness  132 Isaac of Nineveh  9, 108, 109, 112, 113, 115–16, 118–19, 249n. 2 Ishmael, Rabbi  38–9, 40 Islam  5, 6t, 37 see also Sufism Ja‘far Badakhshī  208 Jahāniyyā  219–20 Jamāl al-Dīn Sāvī  222 Jesuits  7, 11, 153–71


Jesus Christ  167 Orthodox Christianity  176, 179 Teresa of Avila on  138 Jesus Prayer  5, 9, 11, 84, 93–101 and Greco-Roman philosophy  101–6 and Orthodox Christianity  173 jogī  216–18 John of Beersheba  83 John of Dalyatha  108, 111, 116–17, 121 John Paul II  4 John the Prophet  80, 82, 85, 89, 90 Joseph the Seer (Hazzāyā)  108 journeying, Sufi  199–200, 209 joy, Hasidic  67 Judaism  6t, 17–19 bodily movement  114 daily worship  50–1 Early Hebrew (pre-Judaic)  6 Hasidism  7, 66–72 Merkavah mysticism  7, 33–43 parts of worship  50–1 see also Kabbalah judgement (gevurah)  46, 48, 52, 52t, 53, 58 Julian of Atrymitius  181–2 Junayd al-Baghdadi  192 Kabbalah  6, 6t, 7 sefirot ‘emanations’  6, 8 and Cordovero  45–60 spiritual friendship  61–75 al-Kalabadhi, Muhamad ibn  191 Kallibourtzis, St. Nikodimos see Nikodimos, St. Kaplan, A.  19–20 Karīm, Shāh ‘Abd al-  216–17 Kashf al-Maḥjūb (Revelation of Mysteries)  214–15 Katz, Steven  120 kavvanot/kavvanah  63–6, 74–5 Keating, Thomas  237n. 4 keter (crown)  46–7, 48, 52–3, 52t, 55, 57, 59 Khwājagān  206 kishtī (bowl)  223–4 knowledge (hokhmah)  46–7, 48, 52–3, 52t, 55–9 Kohn, Livia  10 Kol Haneshamah  75 Kollyvades  177–8, 184



Kostka, St. Stanislas  159–60 Kubra, Najm al-din  72–3 Kubrawi Sufi tradition  190, 198, 199, 204, 207 La Storta, chapel  168 Ladder of Divine Ascent, The (Climacus)  94, 96, 97–9, 100 lahag  23 La‘l Shahbāz Qalander  221–2, 223 Laredo, Bernardino de  139 Laṭif, Shāh (Bhittā’ī, ‘Abd al-Laṭif)  217–18 Le Moyne, Pierre  161, 162 Leder, Drew  129 Letter of Aristeas  86 Letter of Barnabas, The  86 Letters to Lucilius (Seneca the Younger)  94 Leu, Thomas de  162, 166 Leviticus  63, 86 Libro de la Vida (Teresa of Avila)  140–5, 150 light,  and dhikr  196, 197 Divine  48, 60, 66–7, 69 Eckhart on  126–7, 130, 135 Light that Illuminates, The (Or ha-Meir) (Wolf)  71 ‘Lived Body’ (Leib)  130, 133, 135 loci  164 logic relaxation  233 loving fellow as yourself  62, 63, 66, 68, 74–5 lovingkindness  46, 48, 52t, 53, 58, 231, 234t Loyola  see Ignatius Loyola, St. Ludolph the Carthusian  139 Ludolph of Saxony  164 Luria, Isaac  62–4, 71 Ma’aseh Merkavah  37, 41 McGinn, Bernard  125 magic, Merkavah mysticism  37 Maimonides  52 Main, John  237n. 4 majesty (hod)  46, 48, 50, 52, 52t, 53, 56, 57–8 Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Scholem)  34–5 Makarios of Corinth  177 malkhut (shekhinah)  46–7, 48, 50, 51, 52, 52t, 53, 54, 55, 56–9

Mallery, Karel van  166 mantras  237n. 4 Marcus Aurelius  89, 104 Mark the Monk  181 martyrdom  166–8 St. Andrew  157–9, 167 St. Vitalius  160, 167, 168 ‘Martyrdom of St Vitalius, The’ (engraving)  160 Masoretic tradition  28, 29 mast school of Sufism  221, 224 masters,  and ascetics  89 Hasidic  66–72, 72–3 Sufi  11, 191–3, 193, 202, 206–7, 208, 221 see also Teresa of Avila Maximus the Confessor, St.  176, 179–80, 257n. 7 meaning  10–12, 19 medicine  99 meditation, definitions/origins of  3, 20–1, 79, 102, 231–3 meditative attitude, East Syrian tradition  117–18, 121 meditative mental state  18–19 meditative recitation  17–31 meletán  87, 102 melétē  79–92, 97, 102, 105–6 memorization  29, 87, 102, 105 memory  see remembering/remembrance Mendel, Menahem of Vitebsk  70–1 Meninger, William  237n. 4 menstrual cycles  39 mental activity  170–1, 233, 236 mental painting (ekphrasis)  156–61 Merkavah mysticism  7, 33–43 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice  129, 133, 135 Merriam-Webster, definition of meditation  231 Method of Sacred Prayer and Attentiveness  98 mettā  74 Mieth, Dietmar  124 Mikhel, Yehiel, of Zlotshov  67, 68 mind, unwandering  102, 103, 104 miqra’  22, 24 monotheism  30 Moses Maimonides  241n. 4

Index Muḥammad  203, 206, 209 Muḥammad bin Qāsim  214 Müller, Hans-Peter  20 music  113, 228 and Sufism  202, 209, 216–18, 219 mystical consciousness  110–12 mystical experience  7 East Syrian  108–14, 119–21 Jesuit  154 Merkavah  33–43 Sufi  5, 7, 194, 196, 198, 217, 219, 223 see also Kabbalah Nachdenken  88 Nadal, Jerónimo  159, 160 Nahar Shalom (Sharabi)  66 names, Divine  53, 57, 60 Naqshband, Bahā’ al-Dīn  202, 203, 206–7, 208, 209 Naqshbandī order  198, 218–19, 220, 224 Nash Papyrus  25 ‘natural contemplation’  180, 183 Navarola, Octaviano  163 Naxos  176–7 necklace (gulūband)  223 Negotiă, A.  20 Neḥuniah ben ha-Qanah, Rabbi, deposition of  38–40 neshamah  41 ‘Nestorians’  108 Newman, Robert J.  88, 103 nezah (victory)  46, 48, 50, 52, 52t, 53, 56, 57, 58 Nikodimos, St., the Hagiorite  174–9, 183 Aoratos Polemos  179–80 biography  176–9 Peri synechous metalēpseōs  178 Philokalia  175 Nilus of Ancyra  175 nominalism  51–3 Norwegian State Church  4 numbers, and Kabbalah  50, 57 objects of meditation,  East Syrian  115–16 scientific research on  232–3, 236 On Commandments and Doctrines (Gregory of Sinai)  183 On prayer (Evagrius Ponticus)  175, 180


Or ha-Meir (The Light that Illuminates) (Wolf)  71 Origen  96, 99 Orlando Furioso (Ariosto)  164 Orthodox Christianity  5, 6, 173–85 Ospina, M.B.  233 Osuna, Francisco de  139, 142 Our Father (Lord’s Prayer)  5 overcoming passions  84, 87, 89–91, 90–1, 195 Ozhaya  40 Paepp, Jan  164 Palamas, St. Gregory  177, 178 Palma, Bernabé de la  139 panoscopic vision of reality  121 passions, overcoming  84, 87, 89–91, 195 pathless path  128, 130, 135 Paul, St  96 paying attention to oneself  90 Peinture Spirituelle, La (Richeome)  155–6 and ekphrasis  156–61 mnemonic techniques in  163–4 Peintures Morales, Les (Le Moyne)  162 Pennington, Basil  237n. 4 perception  132 perfection  196 Peri synechous metalēpseōs (St. Nikodimos)  178 Philo of Alexandria  104–5, 244n. 7 Philokalia  174, 175, 177–8, 182, 257n. 7 philosophy,  and Christian ascetics  87–91 Greco-Roman  94, 101–6 Islamic  37 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Rorty)  33–4 Philostratus  162–3 phylacteries  25, 29 Plato  84–5, 87, 131 poetry, Sufi  216–21, 224 posters, use in meditation  223, 224 potential receptivity  127, 130, 135 Praktikos  85 prayer,  Centering  237n. 4 Christian ascetics  96 and dhikr  199–200 East Syrian tradition  112–13

288 Eastern Syrian tradition  109 of Hannah  22, 27 Hasidic  71–2 Islam  189 Sufism  219, 261n. 59 Lord’s  5 Merkavah mysticism  41 Orthodox Christianity  180–4 and Teresa of Avila  137–51 see also Jesus Prayer Prayer of the Name  see Jesus Prayer preparedness  103, 183 Procopius, Patriarch  178 prosopopia  163 Protestant Church  4 Provençal method  50 Psalms  25–7, 30, 99, 100–1, 111–13 p-s-g  23 purgatory  179 purity, ritual  193, 198 al-Qādirī, Rakhiyyal Shāh  220 Qādiriyya order  218, 219, 221 Qalandariyya  221 Qāzī Qāzan  216 Quaestiones et responsiones (Barsanuphius and John the Prophet)  90–1 quiet, prayer of  142–4, 146–7 Quintilian  164 Qumran  29 ‘Book of Meditation’  27–8 phylacteries  25 Qur’ān  5, 24 and dhikr  190, 191, 194, 195, 199–200 Quṭub ‘Alī Shāh  219–20 Rabbis  see masters Rabbow, Paul  88 raqṣ  221, 222 Ratio Studiorum  165 Ratzinger, Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI)  4 Razi, Najm al-din Daya-i  192 reading,  East Syrian tradition  112 Judaism  22, 29 see also recitation reality  69 East Syrian tradition  120, 121 Realms of Sovereignty/Omnipotence/ Divinity  195, 196, 260n. 40

Index recitation  6, 7–9 Christianity, ascetics  82, 91, 96 dhikr  193 East Syrian  111–13 Judaism  17–31, 29 vocal/audible and mental/silent  11 recollection  139 see also dhikr recollective prayer  140, 142–3, 146–7 reflection  see remembering relaxation, logic  233 remembering/remembrance  29 Christianity,  death  84, 87, 90, 96 God  94–5, 97, 100, 104–5 Islam  190, 202 see also samā‘ Judaism  25, 27 repetition  5, 9, 10 and Christian ascetics  87, 95–6, 102 Greco-Roman philosophers  102–3, 105 Sufism  5–6 dhikr  192 representation  139–40, 145, 150–1, 157 retreats, Sufism  199 rhetoric, and Jesuit ekphrasis  164–9 Ribadeneira, Pedro, SJ  256n. 64 Richeome, Louis  155–71 Peinture Spirituelle, La (Richeome)  155–61, 163–4 Tableaux Sacrez  161, 162, 166 Riley, Athelstan  174 rim of eternity  128, 130 Ringgren, H.  20 Romanites, Emmanuel  179 Rorty, Richard  33–4 Rūjī, Shams al-Dīn  208–9 ‘rule of liberty’  112–13 Rūmī, Jalāl al-Dīn  262, 262n. 6 rumination  86, 87, 88, 105, 154 S. Andrea, Church of  166–7 Sa‘d ad-dīn-i Hamūya  260n. 31 Ṣadr al-Dīn  206 Safed  62 Sahdona  108, 113, 118 samā‘  209, 213–24 Sánchez de Cepeda, Pedro  139 Sanudo, Marco  177 Sarmast, Sachal  219

Index Sarrāj, Abū Naṣr al-  215 Sar-Torah  35 Schäfer, Peter  35, 40 Scholem, Gershom  34–5, 36, 46 science  4, 170–1, 227–36 and meditative mental states  18–19 scripture  12–13, 154 Bible, and ascetics  82–3 and East Syrian tradition  111–13 Psalms  25–7 Qur’ān  5, 24, 190, 191, 194, 195, 199–200 read aloud  22, 24 sententiae  90 Scupoli, Lorenzo  178, 179, 184 seclusion, dhikr  194, 199 sefer ha-hagy  27–8 Sefer Yesirah (Book of Formation)  41–2 sefirot  6, 8, 9, 45, 46–7, 47–8, 48–52, 52t, 53–60 sefirot belimah  42–3 Seneca the Younger  89, 102–4 Letters to Lucilius  94 senses  131, 223 Sentences of Sextus  99 sententiae  90, 103 Serapion  184 Shadhili order  191 Shāh jo rāg  217 Shāh jo risālo (Epistle of the Master)  217 Sharabi, Shalom Mizrachi  64, 66 shaykhs  see masters shekhinah (God’s indwelling)  46, 47, 50, 53, 54–5, 65 shema (shema‘)  25, 55–6 Shimeon b. Yohai, Rabbi  53, 61 short formulas,  ascetics use of  97 Greco-Roman philosophy  103 sichah/sich  17, 23, 26, 29 Siddur Avodat ha-Kodesh  74–5 Siddur ha-Rashash (Sharabi)  66 Sieben, Hermann Josef  104–5 sight  see vision Sikhism  13 silent meditation  see vocal/silent meditation Simeon the Graceful  108, 110, 112, 119 Simnani, ‘Ala’ al-dawla  192–3, 194–5 hierarchy of visions and colours  196–8


Sindh  213–24 singing,  and Christian ascetics  85 see also chanting; music sleep,  East Syrian tradition  119 Merkavah mysticism  41 Orthodox Christians on  181 and Sufism  192 Smith, Wilfred  24 smoke, and dhikr  196–7 social communities, Judaism  7, 61–75 Society of Jesus  see Jesuits Sohrawardiyya order  218, 219–20, 221, 222, 224 ‘Somatic Modes of Attention’ (Csordas)  130–4 Sophists  161–2 soul,  according to Cordovero  53–4 De Anima (Aristotle)  169 Eckhart on  134 Sufism  192–3 sound  10–11 see also hearing; speech sources, literary, Judaism  20, 21 speech  24 proper enunciation  49 and thought  21–2, 29 spiritual delights  146 Spiritual Exercises (Ignatius Loyola)  157, 164 spiritual friendship  7, 61–75 spirituel (term)  156 ‘states’,  of consciousness  232 mental  235 Stoicism  88–92, 94, 102, 104 studies of meditation  233, 234t Subida del Monte Sion (Laredo)  139 Sufism  5 Indus Valley (Sindh)  213–24 and Kabbalah  46, 72–3 poetry  216–21 samā‘  213–24 ṭarīqas (orders)  199, 214, 215, 216, 218, 219–21, 222, 224 techniques  8, 9, 11 see also dhikr



Summa Theologica (Aquinas)  156 symbolization, social  31 Tableaux Sacrez (Richeome)  161, 162, 166 Talmud  25 Tamar Faqir  217 ṭarīqas  199, 214, 215, 216, 218, 219–21, 222, 224 teachers  see masters techniques  4–6, 8–10, 20–1, 236 ecstatic  21 Tefilla Yeshara  75 tefillin  25 telepathy  70 Tercer Abcedario Espiritual (Osuna)  139, 142 Teresa of Avila  7, 137–51 Castillo Interior  145–51 Libro de la Vida  140–5 Tetragrammaton  47 textual artefacts, Judaism  24 Thessalonians, First epistle to the (Paul)  96 Thomas à Kempis  155 thought, and speech  21–2 Through a Speculum that Shines (Wolfson)  37 tiferet (glory)  46–7, 48, 50–1, 52, 52t, 53, 55–9 tikkun (cosmic healing)  63 Tikkunei Zohar  52–3, 55 To Nicholas (Mark the Monk)  181 Torah/torah  24, 26, 28 touching  223 tranquillity  101, 104 Transcendental Meditation  4, 237n. 4 tsaddik  68–70 Turābī, Ḥājjī  214 Turner, Denys  125–6 UbaLezion  59 understanding  29 binah  46–7, 48, 50, 52t, 52–3, 54, 56–9 union, with God,  Sufi  217 Teresa of Avila and  147–8, 151 unmediated practices  7, 8, 9 ‘unveilings’  215

veils  195, 196, 205, 215 Via Spiritus (Palma)  139 Vices (Evagrius)  84 victory (nezah)  46, 48, 50, 52, 52t, 53, 56, 57, 58 Vigenère, Blaise de  163 vision,  Eckhart on  131–5 Judaism  36–8 Sufism  216, 223 visualization  6, 8, 9, 11 Christian ascetic  87 East Syrian  9 Hasidic  69, 70, 72 Jesuit  7, 11 Kabbalah  9, 49, 50, 56, 57–8 Orthodox Christian  181, 183–4 and Sufism  9 ,11, 193, 196–8 Vita Antonii  99 Vita Jesu Christi (Ludolph the Carthusian)  139 Vital, Hayyim  62–3 Vitalius, St.  160, 167, 168 vocal/silent meditation  6, 11, 21 Christian ascetics  9, 81–2, 87, 97–8, 102 East Syrian tradition  112, 113 Greco-Roman philosophy  103 Judaism  20, 24, 25, 28–30, 54–5 Sufi dhikr  190–1, 194–5, 202, 203–5, 206–7, 209, 210 Teresa of Avila  138, 142–4, 146–7 vowels, Hebrew  52, 52t waḥdat al-wūjud  217 Ware, Kallistos  244n. 8 al-Wasiti  191 water, Sufism  223 waters, four, of Teresa of Avila  140, 142–4 Way of a Pilgrim, The (Anonymous)  5 weeping  118–19 why, living without a  128, 130 Wikipedia, definition of meditation  231 ‘Wise One of the generation’  71 Wolf, Ze’ev of Zhitomir  71 Wolfson, Elliot  37

Index women,  exorcism  262n. 11 menstrual cycles  39 see also shekhinah wool dyeing  103 Word and Light: Seeing, Hearing, and Religious Discourse (Chidester)  131 yantras  8, 13, 114


yesod (foundation)  46, 47, 48, 50, 52t, 53, 57, 58–9 YHVH  47, 53, 56, 57 Yitshak, Levi of Berditchev  75 yoga  181, 216 Zayn al-Dīn Khwāfī  209 Zen meditation  237n. 16 ziyāratī  224 Zohar  61