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Dedicated, with love, to Harold, my late father and fellow Autist
The Echoing Practice
Self-Help Therapy for the Spiritual Heart
Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.
The Steps | Examples | Precautions | Echoes of Cosmic Unity
Emancipated Autism | Spiritual Devotion | Conclusion
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The Echoing Practice™  is the loving remembrance1 of one’s dearly beloved2 God3, Unity, spiritual Teacher, Prophet4, or guru. In the first chapter  of this online text, from The Emancipated Autism Project, the meditation will be simply  explained. It has been partially inspired by the Bhakti-Sufi movement5, but it is not  a Sufi or Hindu path6, way, or method. The book is, in a sense, a prayer or love letter to my dear and precious Lord. Take what you find helpful. Disregard the rest.

I now give you my heart. Although the Practice is intended  for Autists and the similarly dissimilar (people who face many of the same issues), it can  be followed by nearly anyone. You may, if you wish, share your experiences in the guestbook. My recommendation is to begin only with the meditation. This work is intended as a reference and a resource guide. Simply reading it from beginning to end will be confusing.

The Steps

Meditation is entering into a relationship with the qualities which we can identify by name. The first chapter of the book will offer some personal suggestions. Please introduce your own variations. We are all different. Find what works just right for you.

For what it’s worth, after struggling for a lifetime to be emancipated from Autism, I unexpectedly discovered this heartfulness, or spiritually heart-centered, methodology. My closed heart began opening to multi-layered unities within unities in just a few months.

The Echoing Practice, as a form of complementary therapy, is intended to produce an inner  peace or tranquility, to increase attachment to one’s beloved God or spiritual Teacher, and to acquire spiritual virtues. Please set aside some quiet time, and do your best to find yourself a private space. Whenever possible, turn your phone off. You are encouraged to introduce your own variations and to find what personally works for you. Then imagine, for purposes of the Practice, that your spiritual heart7 is located somewhere around the chest.

You may begin with just one or two of the seven steps. They will be clearly and carefully explained after this paragraph. Little by little, as your comfort level increases, raise the number of steps. The exact order is not  important. Some of the steps may even be blended into one. When your eyes are closed, you may, from time to time, open them to check the clock. Alarms, which can obviously be distracting, are best avoided.

  1. Heartfulness.       Always  have a heart-centered awareness, in the moment, of your body and surroundings. The Practice can purify your creative stream of consciousness (thoughts, insights, and feelings). Be receptive to it  except as indicated. However, refuse to think negatively or obsessively by returning, quietly, to the meditation. Any of these exercises may  be used, if you find them helpful, in later steps or independently:
    • While seated or reclined, and wearing comfortable clothing, tighten and release, one by one, any tense muscles. Roll your eyes up slightly, and close them. If you like, meditate on the space between your eyebrows. Remain heartful of any senses and sensations, but do not become distracted by them. Breathe evenly, naturally, and, if you wish, deeply.
    • You might also touch yourself a few times on the forehead (an approach used for hypnotic induction). In order to become “centered,” refocused, and relaxed, practicing movement (also called kinesthetic driving), including dancing and yoga, benefits some people. In addition, it can sometimes be helpful to touch your body. For instance, loosly cup one or both hand(s) facing upwards. Join together the thumb and one of the other fingers. Now, you may be heartful of your pulse.
      buddhi mudra
    • Although you should, ideally, find a place where you are not likely to be disturbed, welcome any background noises without concentrating on them. There is a difference between sense impressions and reactions, such as annoyance, often attached to them. The heartfulness of meditative music and sounds sonic driving) may be useful:
    • Although you should, ideally, find a place where you are not likely to be disturbed, welcome any background noises without concentrating on them. There is a difference between sense impressions and reactions, such as annoyance, often attached to them. The heartfulness of meditative music and sounds (sonic driving) may be useful:
  2. Prayer.       The Unity of the spiritual Teachers has no equals8. All of the Prophets, Messengers9, or spiritual Teachers are One.
    • Concentrate, whenever you wish, on silent or recited or chanted prayer.
    • Since meditation can amplify your emotions and sensations, it is crucial to create a positive  and devotional  attitude as the heart is opened.
    • Pray to and love your God, spiritual Teacher, Prophet, or guru. Titles may include: God, Parent, Source, Light, Holy (or Wholly) Other, Beloved, Eternal, “Thou,” Cosmic Force, Higher Power, the Name of a particular God or Teacher, and so forth.
    • Pour out, and surrender10, your heart. Share your hopes, your joys, and your sorrows. You are having an intimate and loving conversation with your dearest and most trusted Friend. If you need to unburden your heart, my suggestion is to do so to the Beloved. Avoid gossip and backbiting.
  3. Watchful Echoing™.       Over and over again, silently recite, or listen to, any devotional word or phrase you like. Trying  to focus can be stressful. Instead, focus upon your echo as much as possible. From the center of your heart, you are inwardly chanting love songs to your dear Best Beloved. This activity and prayer can flow into one another.
    • Your eyes may be closed, and rolled up slightly, or left open (if you wish, while staring at an object). Before beginning and, again, when ending, briefly rest, quietly, with your eyes shut. However, when you are involved in hazardous activities, such as driving, be cautious or moderate in your echoing.
    • Examples of echoing are provided from various traditions.
    • To recall the echo, or its melody, it can be said vocally before  beginning. Maintaining a rhythm is more important than clear mental pronunication. The echo should be recited, chanted, or listened to in your mind, but lip syncing, or softly whispering along, is fine.
    • Creative thinking, including solutions to problems, may occur to you during the remembrance. Do not suppress them. Drive away negative thoughts by inwardly saying, “thank you,” and then returning, calmly, to the remembrance.
    • You may get into any of these habits: conducting your own inner orchestras and choruses (which did not work for me, personally, as someone with OCD), moving to the beat of the echo (even borrowing from Sufi dancing and “whirling,” if you like), mentally  reciting it in rhythm with the physical heart (using the thumb’s pulse or a hand on the heart), and imagining the echo together with the spiritual heart (engraved upon, being written over, spoken to, reverberating within, and so forth).
  4. Forceless Echoing™.       Before beginning and, again, when ending, briefly rest and relax, quietly, with your eyes shut. Remain open to your stream of consciousness only  at the final bullet. Although this step and the previous one are alternatives  to each other, both may be taken.
    • With your eyes closed, feel yourself mentally repeating the echo without  thinking about it. Begin verbally, if you like, but gradually perform the echoing in complete silence  (with no  whispering or lip syncing). Examples of echoing are provided from various traditions.
    • The echo may fade into the back of your mind, become hazy, and vary in speed, volume, or pitch, which are all fine. Do not  pressure yourself to clearly pronounce the sounds or to achieve a rhythm. The mind should be in a passive and receptive (almost nonchalant), not an active, state.
    • Allow any sensations, such as they are, to come and go. For instance, do not  control or intentionally follow your breath, and avoid focusing  on your heartbeat. Inwardly reciting the echo, perhaps for 15-20 minutes (morning and evening), is all that matters.
    • Do not  try to concentrate or worry about becoming distracted. Stray thoughts are inevitable, but the activity should be forceless. As you notice your mind wandering, calmly and smoothly resume. You are tossing a tiny coin into the wishing well of your heart. Each time the coin vanishes, you toss one in again.
    • These are extra  activities: After finishing the above process, silently recite, every fifteen seconds or so, a short and uplifting quotation. Focus on the spiritual heart. Then read from a holy text. Conclude by inwardly reciting one or more echoes while becoming heartful the Qualities of the God or spiritual Teacher and the qualities of various things11.
  5. Contemplation.       Whenever you like, apply the devotional receptivity, acquired through the previous steps, to one or more of the heart-centered contemplations, or creative imaginations, below. You can also prepare your own. Focusing on extrasensory perception (ESP) or psychic powers is discouraged.
    • Feel your God or spiritual Teacher, and the Perfections of your God or spiritual Teacher, enter your heart. You may also practice Breathing the Spiritual Teacher™ 12. In life, nothing  ultimately matters, in my view, except for loving one’s God or spiritual Teacher.
    • You heartfully visualize  the picture of a holy, or dearly loved. Gradually, turn your heart to the qualities expressed by that individual.
    • You smile while contemplating the heart center. To put it a different way, without thinking how to do so, smile at your heart. However, when working, exercising, and so on, you may simply keep your attention on the heart. “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalms 46:10).
    • You envision your heart glowing and throbbing with a warming light.
    • You heartfully picture one or more individuals with their virtues (or your heart’s light surrounding them). In full embrace, speak to them, kiss their heads, stroke their hair. Repair negative feelings toward individuals or situations. Silently pray for them. The more people one loves, the better. The key to a spiritual relationship is turning your heart to a soul and understanding her.
  6. Reflection.       From, even during, the prior steps, the heart center can become sensitive to inner guidance.
    • One asks oneself a question and pauses to listen for a possible answer. Then, over the course of the day, continue to wait, in expectancy, for answers to questions asked of the heart.
    • Journaling, blogging, poetry writing, storytelling, autobiographical writing, painting, photography, and other forms of expression are often helpful tools for reflective meditation.
    • Here are just a few possible areas for reflection: serving others, turning one’s heart to questions while studying a subject, understanding religious texts, and examining oneself and one’s own experiences.
  7. Service.       Serve the Unity through serving others. Act heartfully  and intentionally, not merely out of habit. Pause, think, and make a new choice. Be pro-active, not re-active (repeating the same action over and over again).
    • We all share in the qualites of the unity of humanity. Service, and regularly checking our motives, reminds us of it.
    • Using moderation or wisdom, put into action the virtues acquired through contemplation and, with care, follow any illumination received during reflection. Relate to others only  from the heart. For instance, if someone asks you a spiritual question, reflect deeply upon, look into, her heart. Then respond to the heart, not to the words.
    • Reflection and service might be compared to inhaling and exhaling. If we receive spiritual direction, but ignore it, we have not completed the breath of life.
    • Service should not be confused, on the one hand, with being servile (“bootlicking”) or, on the other, with being bullied, manipulated, and treated like a doormat. In my view, world unity is the essence of humanity. We discover that unity together. Serve virtuously.

In addition, some writers recommend meditating while seated, no sooner than two hours after meals, and at least two hours before bedtime. The explanations frequently provided are: that an individual is more likely to fall asleep while lying down, that the exercises may interfere with metabolism and digestion, and that meditation can decrease tiredness. Although none  of these issues creates any noticeable problems for me, your own experiences may, of course, differ. Therefore, it cannot hurt to keep these recommendations in mind, especially when first starting  the Practice.

Meditation is, similar to many learning experiences throughout our lives, like riding a bicycle. At first, the possibility of being balancing on two narrow wheels appears to be hopeless. We learn, however, by steps. First, we hold the bike in our hands. Second, we raise the kickstand. Third, while grasping the handlebars, we move one leg over to the other side of the vehicle. Fourth, one foot after the other, we press our feet against the pedals and begin pumping them in circles. Before we know it, the original fuss appears foolish. Riding a bike is easy. As with meditation, we can forget the steps and improvise.

The Echoing Practice  has been carefully designed to increase the receptivity of the heart to love and to other positive emotions. Through consistent effort, each of us, while drawing closer to one’s God or spiritual Teacher may experience peace, joy, and the ecstasy of devotion. The spiritual guidance, which is continuously available to the heart, will, more and more, be recognized and accepted with greater ease and a higher degree of confidence. In short, prayer and meditation can help to purify the inner self. Many of the scratches and stains appearing upon it shall be gradually wiped away. Bless you.

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Watchful Echoing is an ecstatic, or a “blissful,” activity. An individual is spellbound by the rhythms and repetitions of word and sound. Indeed, the echoing of holy words can encourage a spiritually suggestible state of mind. While continuing with the meditation, one consciously, intentionally, and heartfully observes one’s feelings and ideas. By entering this prayerful condition of surrender, the lover may be drawn, more closely, to her God or spiritual Teacher.

Ecstatic prayer is incomprehensible, unpredictable, inexplicable, and overwhelming, yet still functional. Its exemplars include Sri Ramakrishna, the Hindu guru for whom the slightest catalyst would send him into a sometimes days-long rapture, and Saint Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century nun whose visions led her to write what became official Vatican policy for discriminating between heaven-sent visions and those produced by demons or self-deception. From its emergence in the twentieth century as the world's fastest-growing religious phenomenon, Pentecostalism has taken ecstatic prayer to massive proportions.
Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, Prayer: A History.

On the other hand, with the relaxation response, thoughts are never pushed  out of the mind. They are irrelevant. Upon becoming aware that one’s thinking has strayed from its course, one effortlessly returns to the mantra. This method was developed following a clinical study of Transcendental Meditation® (TM®), an organization which has spawned a number of imitators. Similarly, in Forceless Echoing, inspired by several related approaches, the heart is, using little effort, emptied of attachments. It is, afterwards, refilled through the disciplines of reciting, reading, contemplation, and reflection.

Personally speaking, my subjective experiences with these two forms of echoing have been significantly different. Although Watchful Echoing  has produced ecstatic states of consciousness, Forceless Echoing  has been deeply relaxing. By the same token, many of our perceptions and requirements will undoubtedly differ. Therefore, with some people, one of these two heart-centered approaches might be more helpful than the other. These days, for instance, I only practice Watchful Echoing.

Please note that The Echoing Practice  has absolutely  no connection with the Transcendental Meditation® Program. Since I have never even taken that program’s introductory course, it goes without saying that I am totally unqualified  to provide guidance or instructions on any of the specific meditative techniques which are being taught in TM®. If, however, you wish to learn TM®, please visit one of their numerous homepages throughout the world. For those readers living in, or near, the United Kingdom, you may, as an alternative, view the websites maintained under the Meditation Trust.

The list below provides some possibilities  for the quiet echoing of sacred names, and brief silent or vocalized prayer, from various sources. Perhaps you can discover others.

Like polish to a mirror, a consistent devotional practice, when accompanied by acts of service and reflection, may, slowly but surely, purify the heart and mind from faults of character. However, during meditation, our human imperfections may be experienced as emotional pain or discomfort. Gradually, our emotions, our thoughts, and, perhaps, even our dreams may, we find, become more godly and positive. This conquest of the human “ego,” on the whole and in relation to specific issues, can be an ongoing process.

Meditation, together with thoughtful prayer, is communion with one’s spiritual Teacher. Some Christian contemplatives, from several denominational backgrounds, have called their approaches to communion, “listening prayer.” Within the beautiful devotional traditions of Roman Catholicism, this type of inner dialogue, whether silent or spoken, is frequently referred to as internal, or mental, prayer. Possibly more than anyone else throughout the histories of the churches, mental prayer has been associated with St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582):

... mental prayer ... consists in thinking of what we are saying, understanding it, and realizing Whom we are addressing, and who we are that are daring to address so great a Lord. To think of this and other similar things, such as how little we have served Him and how great is our obligation to serve Him, is mental prayer.
St. Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection. Page 74.
As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle [the soul] is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.
St. Teresa of Ávila, Interior Castle.

By whatever names we call these practices of spiritual devotion, they can become a means by which the human heart and spirit are gradually attuned to spiritual vibrations and to the God or spiritual Teacher. Even so, the choice of a method for approaching the divine Presence may depend upon one’s background and temperament. Since an approach which works quite well for one person may, all in all, be entirely unsuitable for another, the exercises described in this work are only offered as suggestions.

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Please bear in mind that the heartfulness meditation offered in this online text is a spiritual practice. Although I have called The Echoing Practice, “Self-Help Therapy for the Spiritual Heart,” it is not  intended as a substitute for psychotherapy. If you are in need of such assistance, my advice is that you consult a properly licensed or certified therapist.

In any event, I am a sociologist (specializing in religious studies, social theory, and clinical sociology) and a college professor. I am not  a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a social worker. (My Ph.D. is in sociology and history, not  in counseling.) Therefore, I can neither  diagnose medical conditions nor  treat health-related issues.

If The Echoing Practice, or perhaps only a single aspect of this meditation, brings about unwanted results, I would urge you to stop using it. I cannot  be responsible for any experiences which you may consider to be “negative.” Many other meditative systems are available, but I recommend  these practices. One way or another, you may, after looking around for a while, find an approach which is better suited to your own current needs and preferences. Generally speaking, however, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (U.S.A.):

Meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched. People with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving physical movement. Individuals with existing mental or physical health conditions should speak with their health care providers prior to starting a meditative practice and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.

Still, it is obviously impractical to remain under the intense spell of heartfulness meditation during certain daily activities. Through excessive serotonin production (so-called kundalini), an individual may, in a manner of speaking, even “overdose” on spiritual intoxication or become sluggish. Considering that a proper balance might well vary from one person to another, my suggestion is to “experiment.” For what it’s worth, however, I can usually get back down to earth (“grounded”) by: reflecting, serving others, pursuing an unrelated interest, and even splashing water on my face.

From my own observations, meditating on internal and external sounds may sometimes, if taken to an extreme, become psychologically obsessive or increase one’s suggestibility to sound. The imaginary sound current,” which can result, might resemble tinnitus. Unfortunately, focusing upon, or worrying about, the sounds may simply make them stronger. My advice is to: reduce or schedule the echoing, breathe deeply while briefly plugging your ears, or, in order to interrupt the pattern of thought, turn various types of sound on and off several times. Above all, please relax.

Moreover, as I have gotten into the deeper states of my heartfulness meditations, I have noticed that, every once in a while, my muscles or joints will suddenly and rapidly twitch or jerk involuntarily. I am not alone. Others have discussed physical tremors which closely resemble my own. I have also personally  observed meditators as they were having similar muscular spasms, contractions, and sensations. In Catch the Fire, one of the newer and more interesting branches of the Christian Charismatic (neo-Pentecostal) movement, “quaking” experiences are connected with the “Toronto blessing.

At the beginning, I was fairly concerned by this unexpected development. Aside from being an Autistic person, I had two tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures back in the 1980s. Therefore, I wondered whether some deeper neurological issue might be involved. Although I am not, by any means, an expert in kinesiology, a field which is dedicated to the scientific study of human movement, my suspicion now is that each of these “quivering” reactions is a release of pent-up physical stress, tension, or anxiety. Clearly, I am more relaxed after, than before, meditation.

Additionally, many meditators complain, at some point down the road, that their spiritual practice, which once was highly satisfying and pleasurable, has become burdensome and stressful. The ecstasy or relaxation, which they enthusiastically awaited at every meditative session, has largely vanished. Frequent headaches are sometimes reported. However, these problems are not, in my view, a result of the meditation. Rather, the heart, after it has been has been opened wide through a regular devotional activity, can become extremely receptive, suggestible, and sensitive.

Beginning at that point, a constant exposure to certain types of negativity may not only decrease a person’s level of spiritual happiness. One might develop such feelings as irritability, fear, anger, or anxiety. Influences which went, in the past, largely unnoticed are now evident. Television news programs, as an illustration, are often deliberately designed  to provoke emotion. By remaining alert to these potential pitfalls, one can, if need be, make appropriate adjustments in one’s activities.

Avoiding hasty judgments may be a good idea. Forceless Echoing  seemed, in my case, to result in unusual daytime sleepiness. At first, I decided to err on the side of caution, but I apparently jumped the gun. After briefly stopping the activity, my unusual tiredness, perhaps coincidentally, went away. Fortunately, I seem to have figured out the source of the problem: As a type-2 diabetic, I had become, on and off, careless in my dietary habits. That issue is now corrected, as is the difficulty with constant drowsiness. To dwell upon the obvious, your experiences might not be the same as mine.

In personal relationships, meditation may result in a greater emotional sensitivity to the “mind games” many people play. Through my own meditative practice, I have become much more perceptive of these attempts at manipulation. They are, perhaps, most common on the Internet, but they regularly occur, of course, in face-to-face interactions, too. I have figured out an easily learned skill. It is played, unknowingly, by toddlers, and it can be extremely frustrating to their parents. Seemingly, then, the majority of us had acquired this ability early in our lives. It was lost, but it can be recovered.

I call this method, the “what?” technique. Here is how to do it: When you suspect that someone is playing a game with you, ask, “What?,” “What do you mean?,” “Say that again?,” “Oh?,” “Huh?,” or words to that effect. Since you are merely asking a question, you are not being rude. However, by making her second-guess herself, your response may put her off-guard and stop the game. From my own experience, it works quite well and helps to avoid quarrels. Since the “what?” technique can easily annoy the individual on the other end, my advice is to use it sparingly and sympathetically.

An approach which has a similar objective to the “what?” technique is to grunt, “Huh,” as if to say, “How fascinating.” Be cautious, however, that your tone of voice does not convey any passive-aggressive sarcasm. As suggested by an online friend of mine, one might respond to gossip and backbiting with an inquisitive, “Oh?,” or an affirmative, “Uh, huh.” Then immediately change the subject. By briefly distracting an individual from engaging in idle chatter, you can facilitate a more productive or spiritually centered conversation.

If, on the other hand, an individual brings up an inappropriate topic for discussion, or perhaps asks you an unwarranted question, you might respond, nondefensively, with, “That is an extraordinarily odd question to ask someone.” Hopefully, making such a firm statement will end the conversation in its tracks. Should, however, the person continue, you could follow up with moral outrage, “I am not going to even dignify that subject (or question) with a response.” By focusing upon behavior, you avoid attacking the other person. Being proactive is far better, in my view, than becoming reactive or angry.

Perhaps the best and most useful approach of them all, for dealing with issues in personal conversations, is humor. You certainly do not need to be another Groucho Marx. However, if you are even reasonably quit-witted, turn the comments made by the other person into a joke. For instance, if someone insults you, agree with her. Then, either while laughing or with a straight face, make whatever was just said to you sound even worse. In other words, by constantly being heartful of one’s surroundings, the majority of problems of this type can be resolved fairly easily.

In any event, by permitting an individual’s poor behavior, you are exposing yourself, especially your inner heart, to unhealthful influences. Our time in this world is precious but limited, and we need to use every single moment to the greatest benefit of humanity and our own eternities. Furthermore, you are certainly not doing the other person any favors. If someone knows that, even though no one else will put up with her disunifying conduct, you are willing to let it go, she may have less motivation to change and improve. By reinforcing a bad habit, others could be hurt, in the long term, as well.

Ultimately, if anyone around you continues to be disrespectful, abusive, and disunifying, calmly, but firmly, express your feelings. Be direct and assertive without becoming angry, anxious, or vindictive. Address the behavior without attacking and bullying the individual. Simply say, assertively, “I cannot tolerate your actions,” not, aggressively, “I cannot tolerate you.” Do not be baited into a feud. Arguing against an insult is relatively easy. It is more difficult to disagree with someone else’s emotions.

Speculating on motives, however, is not, in my opinion, an appropriate topic for conversation. Even if you have a pretty good idea of a person’s intentions or psychological problems, your claims can simply be denied. The conversation will then become circular and heated. When all else fails, simply go away. Avoid the individual, if necessary, at least on an informal level. That said, stand up, in righteous indignation, to those who harm or oppress other people.

On an unrelated subject, I question the common usage of the magical kundalini (Sanskrit for coiled serpent power ), in the twenty-first century, as a universal explanation for spiritual experiences. From my own readings, the kundalini of medieval India is now accounted for by serotonin, which is one of the neurotransmitters or chemicals acting within the human nervous system. Serotonin, associated with feelings of happiness and inner peace, can be stimulated by mental focus or by a class of antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

Nevertheless, the “raising” of the kundalini from the base of the spine, as an expression of the Goddess Shriakti (Sanskrit for ability or power), is alleged to be the source of receptivity (suggestibility), ecstasy, and, perhaps resulting from serotonin-induced confusion and mania, psychic powers. In my view, while developing the suggestibility of the heart, or spiritual happiness, should be balanced and controlled, suggestibilities to dangerous psychic neurological conditioning should be strictly  avoided. I strongly  advise against  all forms of psychic phenomena, including:

An individual may easily, even unintentionally, cross the border from mysticism, or communion with God to occult activity. Indeed, to some people, the two concepts are virtually identical. Certain forms of magic, especially Hindu Tantra (Sanskrit for a loom of doctrines) and branches of the so-called “New Age Movement,” focus upon, even require, psychic development.

Much of the resulting “mind control,” so to speak, occurs without the individual even noticing it. Taking proper safeguards against any possible emotional “triggers,” while sometimes challenging, is obviously important. The effectiveness of advertising campaigns, for instance, shows us how easily the heart can be misguided. In many cases, a person may even come to believe that purchasing a certain product, or desiring a particular service, was completely a result of personal preference.

However, manipulation cannot be avoided, across the board, merely by a keener mental awareness. The key is the heart’s devotion to one’s Guide and a longing for the world of spirit. One should also remain detached from physical things, while striving, figuratively, to bury  one’s willful self or human ego14 in the dust of love and service to others.

Furthermore, certain forms of enchantment can result from numerous substances and behaviors, sometimes producing dependency. Many of the victims of these harmful suggestions appear to be filling a sensation of inner emptiness with increasing stimulations. A partial list of these habits and addictions might contain: alcohol, gambling, nicotine, overeating, debt, sex, cluttering, procrastination, the Internet, online gaming, emotional difficulties, and mind-altering drugs. Within that last category are a variety of addictive and nonaddictive psychedelics consumed for spiritual purposes (entheogens).

As Marshall McLuhan insightfully wrote, “the medium is the message.” The addictive pseudo-unity  of social networking, fueled by websites such as Facebook  and Twitter, and wireless “texting” have, it appears to me, exchanged much of the depth of human relationships for superficial and coded half sentences. Personalities flatten. I see college students, raised on gadgets, wandering alone through campus while deeply engaged with their palms. Getting many of them to turn off their devices in class has become a significant behavioral issue. Yet, the ideology of the century appears, so far, to be apathy.

By enabling us to learn and profit from others, suggestibility and receptivity define our humanness. Sadly, not all cultural and social influences are helpful to one’s states of heart and mind. As a result, perhaps, of these addictive rewirings  of the brain (neurotransmission), an enormously wealthy industry has rapidly developed of specialized counselors, treatment facilities, and rehabilitation centers. In the event that meditation can, as has been claimed, be used in place of bad habits, the euphoria resulting from the positive addiction of meditation would be a considerably more wholesome alternative.

To wrap up this chapter on precautions, I suggest that the self-delusion of inner knowledge can have disasterous consequences. False claims to hidden awareness are often rooted in varying amounts of egotism and pride. The afflicted individual can, by claiming special revelation  or unusual insights, justify, even to herself, behaviors which the majority of people would regard as monstrous. The followers she might have  could, based upon their acceptance of her spiritual authority and knowledge, easily excuse the most outrageous conduct, such as abuse, deceit, and manipulation.

The development of a genuine  humility, as one explores one’s own heart, is extremely important. Paradoxically, I have heard some people attempt to justify conceit by saying something like, “I don’t believe in false humility.” However, the opposite of, or the remedy for, false humility is not, in my opinion, showing off. The opposite of possessing false humility is developing humility. False humility is making believe one is humble, while inwardly one is really being vain or arrogant. The behavior is insincere and dishonest. Perhaps the individual is trying to impress others by posing or by putting on a show.

When people rely upon subjective or inner  knowledge, it can be overpowering. They can fantasize themselves as occupying any position they wish. Many ordinary  individuals, throughout history, have claimed to be messiahs or prophets of one sort or another. Through my work as a sociologist of religion, I have personally been acquainted with a few. Clearly, some people who fit the mold have conscious hidden agendas, but most of those I have known appeared sincere.

The major problem, as I see it, with self-delusion and practices based upon it, such as spiritualist (or spiritist) mediumship and modern-day channeling, is the separation of knowledge from love. Of course, many people involved in these activities would flat out reject that statement. To them, the quest for inner knowledge is  an act of love. However, spiritual knowledge, in my view, is basically an expression, a type perhaps, of love. From one perspective, spiritual love and spiritual knowledge are virtually identical. Seeking spiritual knowledge, for its own sake, can lead to self-delusion.

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Echoes of Cosmic Unity

Echoes of Cosmic Unity™, which is a simplification of The Unicentric Paradigm™, combines my personal understandings of certain Teachings of the Baháʾí Faith with my approach to critical realism. As I see it, the goal of The Echoing Practice, and the purpose of life in general, is to acquire the qualities of the Unity. For more detailed information, you can read this free online book.

Echoes of Cosmic Unity, directly below, is a model of unity (nonduality) in diversity (duality):

  1. COSMIC UNITY: The Collective Center of all beings and things is Cosmic Unity.

  2. EMANCIPATION: The levels of emancipation are below.
    1. COSMIC EDUCATION: Extraordinary individuals express the Cosmic Unity in conversations with humans.
      1. Cosmic Envelope: These extraordinary individuals live in a cosmic envelope (unity)
      2. Cosmic Relative Reality: Each of the extraordinary individuals is unique.
    2. SERVICE: Personal and social emancipation is a result of serving others.
    3. UNDERSTANDING: Cosmic knowledge comes from the extraordinary individuals.
    4. MATURITY: Altruism is the path to maturity.
    5. END OBJECTIVE: The result of human life is emancipation.
    6. Human Experience
    7. DREAMS: The dream state can be a tool for self-discovery.
    8. VIRTUES: Through extraordinary individuals, each of us can become virtuous.

  3. HUMANITY: Human beings contain rational (such as thinking and free will), sensory, growing, and cohesive characteristics.
    1. COPRESENCE: Groups unite around extraordinary individuals.
    2. DEMIREALITY: The negation or contradiction of copresence, which divides people from one another, is dualism or demireality.
    3. RELATIVE REALITY: Human bodies include the characteristics of animals, vegetables, and minerals.

  4. SENSATION: Each animal contains sensory, growing, and cohesive characteristics. They are the animal’s bodily functions (shared by human beings).

  5. GROWTH: Each vegetable contains growing and cohesive characteristics.

  6. ELEMENTAL COHESION: Each mineral contains cohesive characteristics.

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Emancipated Autism

Autism15 has become political hardball. Most of the individuals involved may be well-intentioned, but there has been little unity and cooperation between the various factions. Some organizations are operated by parents, without any Autists, and promote nonscientific “cures” for Autism. Others are run only by Autists and, while advocating for support, oppose cures at all. Then there are minority views. Many transhumanists, for instance, believe that Autism, especially Asperger’s Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1), should be taken as a model for the generalized improvement of the human species.

The online community of Autists and the mental health community have been relatively disconnected. This unfortunate separation has mostly been a result of the neurodiversity movement and its focus upon creating a unique Autistic identity. There are, however, movements related to Autism and to mental health, which, to some extent, run parallel to one another. Descriptions of a number of them are provided on my Brief Outlines of Liberation Movements page. Bridging the gap between these two, and other, disability communities, United Against Neurelitism  has developed a Unifying Model of Disability.

Unity, in diversity, is, as I see it, always  preferable over division. In my opinion, the unities of humanity and all beings and things are realities. As humans, we are not cats or dogs or cattle. We are members of the same biological species, homo sapiens, and members of the same subspecies, homo sapiens sapiens. Classifying us by race, ethnicity, and nationality is a human invention. Defining us through our skin color makes no more scientific sense than distinguishing between us based upon hair or eye color. Each of these three traits were evolutionary adaptations. Their variations, based upon climate, resulted from natural selection.

By discovering unity, I became an emancipated Autist. Neurologically, I am presumably still an Autist, and I still have many Autistic characteristics, including my daily rituals. Perhaps, in time, medicine will become more effective in addressing these issues. In other words, I have not been cured of Autism. I am also not a big fan of the twelve-step model and its “diseasing” of life. However, as I have discovered, through prayer and meditation, an enfoldment of unities as the fabric of existence, my level of empathy has continued to develop. I informally define emancipated Autism as including individuals who:

  1. were diagnosed, at sometime over their development, with an Autistic spectrum disorder.
  2. have discovered unity, empathy, or connectedness through spiritual experience.

The Unifying Model, while similar to parts of the Empowerment Framework, changes the focus from the individual to “humanity.” In both models, however, a medical client  is expected not to be merely a passive recipient of health care services. The attitude, “We know what is best for you,” would be unacceptable. Not only could she choose, or refuse, a particular health care provider. She has the right to reject any  treatment. An example of the Empowerment Framework is the recovery movement. It was influenced by the similarly American twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous® and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Unifying Model also borrows from the Social Model of Disability. In the Social Model, the term, “disability” refers to social oppression or discrimination based upon social disadvantages. Disability is not the same as simple human differences. In other words, once the oppression is removed, the disability is eliminated. In United Against Neurelitism, disability is also defined as oppression. However, the medical oppression which results from having a number of usually undesirable neurological traits, especially the difficulties with processing empathy, is incorporated, as well.

As a practical application of social justice, the Unifying Model is not utopian. Simply, each of us should, working together, advocate for one other, not only for ourselves. The development of unified communities and societies is the heart of the model. Identity politics, or movements supporting the partisan interests of individuals with particular disabilities, are discarded. They are replaced with an awareness of the unity of humanity. If we share, together, the physical attributes, the qualities, of the essence of humanity, we are literally, not just figuratively or metaphorically, related to one another.

For example, our global community might, working in unity, develop better treatments, perhaps even targeted cures, for Autism. With a dear Autistic father, I should always  have known, better than most people, the importance of discovering scientific medical cures. Second, we Autists, as uncommonly odd individuals, are often bullied. Due to a lack of social skills, we also have much higher-than-average unemployment rates. Cooperatively protecting Autists from all forms of oppression and discrimination, is, I feel, crucial. Every human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Spiritually, the ideal lifestyle for many Autists may be that of a mystic: one who, through prayer or meditation, spends considerable time and effort in drawing closer to one’s Beloved. Within some religious movements, monasticism, the life of a nun or monk, may be an option. Since cloistered, or secluded, communities are not found inside my faith tradition, I often refer to myself as an inner monk. Being home, alone, is  my vacation. Although I interact with others at work, by telephone, over the Internet, and in other limited contexts, I mostly engage in solitary actitivies, especially communion with God.

I am in good company. Meditations, heart-centered and otherwise, have positively affected the lives of these Autists, too:

Silently repeating the echo during my daily routines, as an Autist, keeps me spiritually centered. With others, practicing the echo during “stims” (repetitive body movements) may have a similar result. In fact, “getting tired” of sounds or songs I like has never made any sense to me. The redundancy in itself is comforting and quieting. I also find it helpful to reflect on subjects such as, Autistic self-advocacy, civil and other human rights, personal behavior, and, especially, empathy.

Some Autists may also attempt to compensate for their social challenges by relating to people and ideas more intellectually than emotionally. At least for me, a college professor, heart-centered devotional meditation is correcting that imbalance. Although empathy, which is one of the attributes of the unity or essence of humanity, might not be innate or natural within many Autists and others, it can, based on scientific research, often be acquired. Evidence of a relationship between empathy and meditation may be of special interest to many individuals on the Autism spectrum:

This might already be obvious to enlightened souls, but researchers are discovering that meditation may permanently change the physical structure of the brain. Neural circuits linked to focus, happiness and empathy may be strengthened through long-term meditation, effectively rewiring the brain and “lighting up” certain sections with a life-long capability for stronger activity in those regions, scans have indicated.
Mary Papenfuss, Newser  staff, “Om My! Meditation Changes Brain Structure.” Oct 27, 2010.
Autism is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown cause that affects approximately 1-3 percent of children and four times more boys than girls. Its prevalence is global and its social impact is devastating. In autism, the brain is unable to process sensory information normally. Instead, simple stimuli from the outside world are experienced as overwhelmingly intense and strain the emotional centers of the brain. A stress response to the incoming information is initiated that destabilizes cognitive networks and short-circuits adequate behavioral output. As a result, the child is unable to respond adequately to stimulation and initiate social behavior towards family, friends, and peers. In addition, these children typically face immune-digestive disorders that heighten social fears, anxieties, and internal conflicts. While it is critical to treat the physical symptoms, it is equally vital to offer an evidence-based holistic solution that harmonizes both their emotional and physical well-being as they move from childhood into adult life. Here, we summarize evidence from clinical studies and neuroscience research that suggests that an approach built on yogic principles and meditative tools is worth pursuing. Desired outcomes include relief of clinical symptoms of the disease, greater relaxation, and facilitated expression of feelings and skills, as well as improved family and social quality of life.
Sonia Sequeira and Mahiuddin Ahmed, “Meditation as a Potential Therapy for Autism: A Review.” Autism Research and Treatment. Volume 2012 (2012). Article ID 835847. 11 pages. Retrieved on July 28, 2012.

Many spiritual and religious experiences are governed by feeling and empathy, and relating to God is a social skill. More acceptable, or understandable, are, for example16: Atheism, Agnosticism, Ignosticism, Apatheism, Rationalism, Transhumanism, Beingism, Sea of Faith, Polydoxy, Brightism, Universism, Apollonianism, Objectivism, Religious Humanism, Ethical Culture, and Yoism. In fact, this observation, along with my meditative experiences and some other factors, eventually led me to reject the strict anti-cure position within some segments of the online Autistic community. In my opinion, many Autists need a devotional system which takes us out of our heads.

In short, I lived most of my life without empathy. Even my relationship with God was intellectual, not emotional. After I discovered empathy, through meditation, I realized how much Autism had damaged, handicapped, my life. However, my peak experiences are not a proof of anything. Anyone can claim to have had inner transformation. Therefore, I will refer to the research. If the closely related constructs of poor theory of mind, mentalizing, and empathy disable a considerable segment of the human population from having an intimate relationship with God, that disability should be healed and corrected as soon as possible.

The strongest connection between atheism and autism before now was a paper presented at a conference last year by Catherine Caldwell-Harris and collaborators at Boston University. Survey respondents with high-functioning autism were more likely than control subjects to be atheists and less likely to belong to an organized religion. (They were also more likely to have religious ideas of their own construction ....) And atheists were higher on the autistic spectrum than Christians and Jews....
That’s where the new paper comes in. Ara Norenzayan and Will Gervais of the University of British Columbia and Kali Trzesniewski of UC Davis report on four studies....
First, people with higher scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient ... [a Autism test developed by Simon Baron-Cohen] had weaker belief in a personal God. Second, reduced ability to mentalize mediated this correlation.
Matthew Hutson, “Does Autism Lead to Atheism?: Belief in God Depends on Theory of Mind. Psychology Today (magazine). May 30, 2012. Retrieved on July 31, 2012.
We found new evidence for an inverse link between the autism spectrum and belief in God that was explained by mentalizing, as predicted by cognitive theories of religion ....
... the effect of autism on belief in God remained significant after controlling for religious attendance ..., and disappeared only after controlling for mentalizing. This demonstrates that the effect of autism on belief exists even after removing the considerable overlap between belief in God and religious attendance. Relatedly, the relationship between the autism spectrum and belief cannot be solely a by-product of the more challenging social circumstances of autistic individuals, as identical patterns emerged when autism was measured as a continuous variable in a non-clinical sample of university students sharing similar social circumstances ....
Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, and Kali H. Trzesniewski, Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God. May 30, 2012. Retrieved on August 12, 2012.
The cognitive science of religion is a new field which explains religious belief as emerging from normal cognitive processes such as inferring others’ mental states, agency detection and imposing patterns on noise. This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism). This view waw supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA [high-functioning Autism]. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.
Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Caitlin Fox Murphy, and Tessa Velazquez, “Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism. Abstract. Cognitive Science Journal Archives. 2011. Retrieved on August 12, 2012.

In our socially fragmented civilization, diagnostic rates for Autism are also, reportedly, on the increase. In the online Autistic movement, libertarianism, as a path of least resistance, is, from my own personal observations, rampant and widespread. It is, at the same time, a socially alienating perspective. Autists, like myself, generally struggle with issues of interpersonal interaction and spirituality or empathy. Although unity can be beneficial, ideologies of individualism and libertarianism are spiritually damaging. Thus, the idolatry of personal liberty, or the deification of the self, is, deceptively, the enemy of Autists.

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Spiritual Devotion

My personal model for devotion is the Bhakti or Bhakti-Sufi movement of South Asia, including the Indus Valley. I briefly discuss that historical movement’s spiritual impact in two Internet radio broadcasts (MP3 audio file 1 and MP3 audio file 2). The movement’s influence upon South Asia, and even in the Western world, has endured to the present time. Moreover, this deep stirring of the heart (Arabic, al-qalb) was firmly established in the Sikhism of the great saint Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and in numerous oppressed and underclass communities from South Asia, including throughout India.

India saw a remarkable fusion of Islamic and indigenous Hindu traditions, giving rise to a rich composite culture.... One of the best representatives of this confluence of traditions is the Bhakti-Sufi movement, a form of personal piety that challenged the hegemony of the religious orthodoxy and crusaded against caste and community divisions and meaningless ritualism.
A wealth of literature abounds with the teachings and writings of these Hindu and Sufi mystics ....
Laxmi G. Tewari, “Common Grounds between Bhajan and Qawwali.” Conference on Music in the World of Islam. Assilah. August 8-13, 2007. Retrieved on August 17, 2013.
Caste distinctions ... had been deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche. One could perhaps argue that without the Bhakti/Sufi movement things would have been far worse.
“General Introduction.” Medieval Indian Literature: An Anthology. Volume one. Surveys & Selections. K. Ayyappa Paniker, chief editor. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Akademi. 1997. Page xxxiii.

In my opinion, the devotional center, and flowering, of the Golden Age of Islam can be found in the Bhakti-Sufi movement. Both the Bhakti and Sufi associations in India arose largely from within subaltern (subordinate, oppressed, dominated, or hegemonized) peasant populations, including women, lower-caste Hindus, and Muslims:

The subaltern as a concept within political theory gained momentum through the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.... Subalternity refers to diminished political voice, organization, and representation on the part of nonelite social groups, their relative invisibility in historical documentation, and their non- or extrahegemonic [powerless] subjection to the power of elites.
Nalini Persram, “Subaltern.” Encyclopedia of Political Theory. Mark Bevir, editor. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. 2010. Pages 1340-1341.

Additionally, in Hinduism, the Acintyabhedaabheda (Sanskrit for inconceivable oneness and difference) bhakti tradition originated in Gaudiya Vaishnava (Sanskrit for Vishnu worship in the Gauda territory of modern-day Bangladesh and Bengal, India). It was founded by Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534 A.D.) and more recently popularized, in the West, by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977 A.D.). Caitanya’s teaching, in the Bhakti-Sufi movement, was uncomplicated. Many later leaders complicated it. The following is a complete translation of the only known text authored by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Shri Shikshashtakam (Sanskrit for an instruction in eight stanzas):

Glory to the Sri-Krishna-sankirtana [Sanskrit for Sri Krishna chanting], which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. This sankirtana [Sanskrit for chanting] movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.
O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krishna and Govinda [Sanskrit for protector of cows]. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.
One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.
O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth.
O son of Maharaja Nanda [Sanskrit for Great or Exalted King of Joy, namely, Krishna’s custodial or “foster” father], I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet.
O my Lord, when will my eyes be decorated with tears of love flowing constantly when I chant Your holy name? When will my voice choke up, and when will the hairs of my body stand on end at the recitation of Your name?
O Govinda! Feeling Your separation, I am considering a moment to be like twelve years or more. Tears are flowing from my eyes like torrents of rain, and I am feeling all vacant in the world in Your absence.
I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord, unconditionally.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Shikshashtakam.

Chishti was, and continues to be, one of the Sufi branches, now divided into numerous orders, in South Asia. Widely known for their openness and tolerance, the branch was an important part of the Bhakti-Sufi movement. The founder of Universal Sufism (1914), the Indian-born Hazrat Inayat Khan, 1882-1927, identified most closely with the Chishti orders, but his lineage, or chains of descent, also passed through the Qadiriyah, the Suhrawardiyah, and the Naqshbandiyah branches. He and some of his successors have promoted a generic, as contrasted with a “brand-name,” Islam. In a sense, Universal Sufism has been a modern revival of the Bhakti-Sufi movement:

Although Sufism is the essence of all religions and its influence is upon all, yet it can more justly be called the esoteric side of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Hazrat Inayat Khan, Inayat Khan: On Sufism.
Islam itself can be distinguished between name-brand Islam and generic Islam. The Qurʾan Sharif [Noble Qurʾan] itself refers to a multiplicity of prophets. It says, “We have sent a prophet to every community.” And in the hadith [al-Hadith] literature — that is to say, in the transmission of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him — there is reference to 124,000 messengers. These were all messengers of a single divine message, and that divine message is Islam in the generic sense, the essential religion within all existing religious forms, including the form that we call “Islam,” which is really the Muhammadan version of Islam. That is name-brand Islam.
Sufism has a deep, essential connection with both generic Islam, with universal religiosity, which is the common dimension of the depth of human experience, which can be found in the depths of all world religions, and which can be traced back to the earliest prophets. And Sufism as a historical phenomenon also has a special connection with the dispensation of the Islamic religion, which is one form out of many of the “risala,” of the message.
Pir Zia Inayat Khan (grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan), “Pir Zia Inayat Khan on Sufism.” Centrum Universel. November, 2002. Retrieved on September 2, 2013.
Since much of the historical development of Sufism has been in parts of the world where Islam is the predominant form of religious practice, many Sufis worldwide are Muslims. However, the Sufi Order International inherits a stream of “universal” Sufism which began in India nearly 800 years ago, affirming the common ideals of all faiths.
FAQ.” Sufi Order International—Seattle. 2013. Retrieved on September 10, 2013.

Few Sufi groups, outside India and the West, have taken inclusive approaches of this type. However, in North America, Europe, Australia, and so forth, Khan’s impression upon Sufism, and on public perceptions of it, has been similar to the effect of Swami Vivekananda with Hinduism. Both men came from India, a land of contrasts. Each of them redefined his spiritual tradition by universalizing it. Vivekananda’s impact has been much greater and more widespread. Nevertheless, virtually all modern Sufi movements have benefited, directly or not, from Khan’s reformulation of Sufism.

One example of Khan’s universalizing influence, now faded from the limelight, is the non-Islamic Shah Movement. It is grounded in the Naqshbandi, not the Chishti, Sufi tradition. The approaches taken by the brothers, Idries Shah and Omar Ali-Shah differed in some areas. However, many of their shared viewpoints, including universalism, resembled Inayat Khan’s. Although observing the religious laws of the Prophet is expected of devotees in the vast majority of traditional Sufi orders, there is no such requirement in either the Shah Movement or Universal Sufism.

Hazrat Sultan Bahu, as a Sufi from the South Asian subcontinent, was another beautiful exemplar of that traditionally commingled, or interfaith, devotional experience. Like Guru Nanak and Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Bahu became a brilliant luminary of the Bhakti-Sufi movement (approximately 800-1700 A.D.):

The Bhakti-Sufi movement was ... [a] major pan-Indian articulation ... of subaltern dissent.
The spokesmen/women of the movement mostly came from the subaltern or marginalised sections of society and were workers, women or Muslims.... Sultan Bahu ... and other Sufi poets were Muslims by birth.
K. Satchidanandan, “Between Saints and Secularists.” Belonging. Volume II. Issue 3. Retrieved on August 17, 2013.
An important landmark in the cultural history of medieval India was the silent revolution in society brought about by a galaxy of socio-religious reformers, a revolution known as the Bhakti Movement. This movement was responsible for many rites and rituals associated with the worship of God by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Indian subcontinent. For example, Kirtan at a Hindu Temple, Qawaali at a Dargah (by Muslims), and singing of Gurbani at a Gurdwara are all derived from the Bhakti movement of medieval India (800-1700)....
Sufism represents the inward or esoteric side of Islam or the mystical dimension of Muslim religion. However, the Sufi saints transcending all religious and communal distinctions, worked for promoting the interest of humanity at large. The Sufis were a class of philosophers remarkable for their religious catholicity..... It [Sufism] rebelled against all forms of religious formalism, orthodoxy, falsehood and hypocrisy and endeavoured to create a new world order in which spiritual bliss was the only and the ultimate goal....
... Sultan Bahu (ca 1628-1691) was a Muslim Sufi and saint who founded the Sarwari Qadiri Sufi order [Sarvari Qadiriyah Sufi Tariqa]. Sultan Bahu was born in Anga, Soon Valley, in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. Like many other Sufi saints of South Asia Sultan Bahu was a prolific writer. More than forty books on Sufism are attributed to him, mostly in Persian.
Arun Joshi, Bhakti Movement in India and Punjab. November 26, 2012. Retrieved on August 18, 2013.

I am not a Muslim, but I have been inspired by the deep Sufism of the heart in the poetry and prose of Sultan Bahu. While a mystic by temperament, Bahu also emphasized the importance of faithfulness to the legal codes within the beautiful religion of Islam. In my view, Sultan Bahu, is among the finest fruits of the religion of Islam. He has been accurately designated, the Chief of Mystic Knowers or Gnostics. I have lovingly and sincerely cherished his blessed soul through my inner spiritual relationship with him.

Beloved Bahu, God bless his soul with peace, is, I feel, my dear guardian angel. Acting from the world beyond, I believe he was among the spiritual sources of the visionary flashing white lights, lightning bolts, or chalices of pure light. Through Bahu, the discovery of Sufi meditation, and Sufism more broadly, became, to my understanding, an instrument of healing from my heart-based deficits as an Autist. Indeed, although I only recognized the eminent Bahu’s influence upon me in 2011, he may have been with me, guiding me, for my entire life.

God led me to Himself, I believe, through a Sufi-type meditation. When I began the Echoing Practice in 2010, dear Bahu, a Muslim during the Age of Islam, entered into my heart and, I strongly feel, showed me the way to my dear Lord. For some unexplained reason of the heart, I was drawn, above all else, to beloved Bahu while studying Sufism. My first sensations of empathy, as an Autist, revolved around, first, the pure soul of Bahu and, second, my deep love for the Muhammad as the Source of Sufism. He has been the Object of such misunderstanding. By turning to this man of the heart, I got my own. As Bahu wrote in two of his books:

O seeker! Thou hast requested permission for mystical knowledge from me ....
I will show thee Allah as nearer to thee than thy jugular (or life) vein.
Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Nur al-Huda: Light of Guidance. Translation significantly modified by Mark A. Foster. Page 2.
Whoso shalt study this book, by day and by night, with sincerity, certitude, and conviction will become cognizant of the divine secrets. He hath no need of instruction and teaching from a living guide.
Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Nur al-Huda: Light of Guidance. Translation significantly modified by Mark A. Foster. Page 3.

Once Bahu rejected disunity or dualism for unity or nonduality, he was emancipated:

Neither Sunni nor Shiʿah am I.
As with one, so with the other, heartburn afflicts me.
The moment I rejected them, my pathway was no longer arid. I found myself immersed in the ocean of divine Unity.
Many souls, poorly prepared for that which awaited them, dived into the ocean and drowned. Few swam successfully to the journey’s end.
Only those who held steadfastly to the Master’s hand reached the heavenly shore in safety.
Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Kalam-i Bahu (discourse of Bahu). Translation significantly modified by Mark A. Foster.

Since I was a child, I have been passionate about both Islamicate, or Islamically contextualized, thought and Indian traditions, including Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma (Sanskrit for eternal support), Sikhism, and Surat Sabda Yoga. Following a meditation on August 17, 2013, I realized that my lifelong inner connection with dear Bahu might have kindled these twofold interests. Current illustrations include Sufi Information Central and the Echoing Practice, my love for British phliosopher Roy Bhaskar’s philosophy of metaReality. This latest version of his Critical Realism was significantly influenced by a journey toward rediscovering his own Hindu family background, including bhakti yoga.

“Islamdom” is ... the society in which the Muslims and their faith are recognized as prevalent and socially dominant .... Sometimes the phrase “the Islamic world” is used much in this sense....
... The adjective “Islamic” ... must be restricted to “of or pertaining to Islam” .... Unfortunately, there seems to be no adjective in use for ... the society or culture of Islamdom [the Islamic world].... I have been driven to invent a term, “Islamicate”.... [It] would refer ... to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims.
Michael G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. Volume 1. The Classical Age of Islam. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 1977. Pages 58-59.
The first part of Sabda Yoga meditation begins with sitting still, quiet, eyes closed down, mentally repeating the 5 [initiatory] Names and lovingly gazing into the middle of the darkness lying in front of us, which will develop into concentration on the inner light. Repetition ... is continuous during this. Breathing is natural and free flowing without paying any attention to it. Breath is not interfered with. It goes on by itself....
The second part of Sabda Yoga meditation involves listening to the Sound Current.... [O]ne listens to the inner Sound Current coming at first from the right side and ultimately from the top of the head ....
Surat Sabda Yoga: The Yoga of the Sound Current.
... all of the four traditional yogas are necessary:
Jnana Yoga—the path of wisdom;
Bhakti Yoga—the path of love or devotion;
Hatha Yoga—the path of physical strength or grace; and
Karma Yoga—the path of action or service.
Roy Bhaskar, The Philosophy of metaReality: Creativity, Love and Freedom Classical Texts in Critical Realism. New York: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group). 2012. Page 182.

Specifically, I have been attracted to the Bhakti-Sufi movement throughout my life. Before I ultimately joined the Baháʾí Faith, I seriously considered becoming a Sikh. I was deeply disappointed after discovering, through mail correspondence with the Sikh Temple in Stockton, CA, that baptized Sikhs needed to carry a sword and to wear both a turban and long underwear draped around the knees. Since I was already being bullied as an Autist, such unusual accoutrements, especially in the gym locker room, would have only made matters worse. I was not told that not all Sikhs follow those conventions. Perhaps dear Bahu was protecting me for the Baháʾí Faith.

Although I was unsuccessful at astral projection or out-of-body experiences, I did come close to joining the neo-Sikh Eckankar organization. It incorporates a similar practice to astral projection. This Americanized branch of the highly schismatic Surat Sabda Yoga (Arabized Sanskrit for union through attention to the word) was founded by John “Paul” Twitchell (1909-1971) in 1965. As I recall, only a minor postal miscommunication between me, at around thirteen-years old, and the headquarters (then in Las Vegas, NV), possibly through Bahu’s intercession, prevented me from becoming a member. Their return letter may have dampened my enthusiasm, but I had already lost interest.

Yet, in my continuing search for angelic contact, I was initiated, after becoming a Baháʾí, into three other Surat Sabda Yoga “divisions” or groups: Sri Sri Thakur Anukulchandra Satsang (named for the founder of the organization, Sri Sri Thakura Anukulacandra, 1888-1969), Sant Mat (Sanskrit, Sant Mat, the realized one’s doctrine or path), and Spiritual Freedom Satsang (an offshoot of Twitchell’s Eckankar). Any movement, like Surat Sabda Yoga, which promotes a primary reliance upon subjective knowledge, or gnosis, of alleged beings, locations, lights, and sounds in supposedly higher worlds or dimensions of otherworldly existence can rapidly factionalize.

As a matter of record, his angelic presence Sultan Bahu, a Punjabi, was born in Agra (India) around 1628 A.D., and he died about 1691. His mausoleum is located in Garh Maharaja (a Pakistani fort). “Ba is the Persian preposition for “with,” while hu is the Arabic pronoun for “he” (referring here to God). Therefore, Bahu, which was Sultan Bahu’s given name (from his mother, Bibi Rasti, Persian for madam truth), can be translated as “with God.” His name came to define his noble character. As Bahu wrote, in one of his poems, referring to the modest spelling differences between two letters:

With one dot, Ba Hu becomes Ya Hu [O He]....
And Bahu is always steeped in the remembrance of Ya Hu.

Bahu is regarded as the pathfinder or founder of the Sarvari Qadiriyah Sufi Order. Although he would not designate an heir, much as Rebbe Nahman (1772-1810) of Bratslav Hasidic Judaism refused to establish a dynasty (Hebrew, ha-sadiqm, the righteous ones), each has had one or more claimants to succession. Qadiriyah is named after the traditional founder of the original order, ʿAbd al-Qadir al-Gilani. Al-Qadir (the capable or competent one) is one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. Sarvari (Persian, Hindi, and Urdu for chiefship) refers here to the ʿUwaysi transmission, by Muhammad’s blessing, to Bahu.

Briefly, the word, “ʿUwaysi,” was adopted from the reported case of His Blessed Presence Muhammad’s contemporary, ʿUways al-Qarani. According to traditional accounts, he swore or, literally, “sold,” with a metaphorical handshake (more precisely, a handclasp), his allegiance to the Prophet of Islam wholly in the world of spirits. The two men never met physically. Although the circumstances surrounding the life of ʿUways al-Qarani may be legendary, or partially so, he has inspired individuals to claim inner spiritual direction, and sometimes even authority over Sufi orders, as a result of similar experiences.

In an ʿUwaysi transmission, authorization (al-ijaza) is allegedly conveyed, entirely within the heavenly realms, by an outwardly unrelated entity (living, deceased, or even mythological). They have included the dear Prophet Muhammad, the legendary al-Khidr (the Green One), and departed Sufi shaykhs (elders), such as the founders of Sufi orders. Soul to soul, sometimes through inspired dreams and visions, vows of Sufi loyalty, like the oaths made to a European feudal lord in the Middle Ages, will be pledged one to another.

Hazrat Sultan Bahu, God bless his soul, formulated tasavvur-i ism-i dhat (conceptualizing the personal name of God) or, in Arabic, al-tasawwur al-ism al-dhat. The discipline involves visualizing the word, (Allah), being inscribed upon one’s own heart (Arabic, al-qalb). When, through the intercession of the exalted Bahu, I was inspired, resurrected, and lovingly emancipated as an Autist, I incorporated my own revised version of the exercise into the methodology of the Echoing Practice. That spiritual application remains the devotional center of The Emancipated Autism Project™.

Intriguingly, before I was even consciously aware of beloved Bahu, I sought out and received personal instruction from an authorized disciple of Gohar Shahi (Persian and Urdu, royal jewel). Shahi taught various meditative practices, including a type of tasavvur-i ism-i dhat. Much later, I discovered that Shahi, after claiming to have an inward, mystical experience with Bahu, founded a similarly ʿUwaysi branch of Bahu’s Tariqa, the Religion of God. Born in 1941, and now possibly deceased, Shahi is, I feel, my fellow traveller under Bahu’s watchful eye.

When Hazrat Gohar Shai was at about the age of thirty four, at one night Hazrat Bari Imam (tomb is in Islamabad) appeared before him and said: “My son your time has come, you must go to the shrine of Sultan Bahu to receive the Spiritual Knowledge.” Hazrat Gohar Shahi then left every thing and went to shrine of Hazrat Sultan Bahu. Sultan Bahu appeared before him and advised to read and act upon his book Nurul Huda (Light of Guidance) and go to Sehwan Sharif, Distt. Dadu, Pakistan. Hazrat Gohar Shahi read the book Nurul Huda and went to Sehwan Sharif for self-purification and peace of heart....
Shah Sahib then left his work, family and parents and went to Shorkot, where under the blessful supervision of Sakhi Sultan Bahu sahib [Gohar Shahi] made the book Nur-Al-Huda (a book written by Sultan Bahu Sahib), his journey’s companion. He then went to Sehwan Sharif for self-mortification and peace of heart and spent a period of three years in the mountains of Sehwan Sharif and the forest of Laal Baagh in self-Purification. Thereafter pursuant to a revelation Shah Sahib [Gohar Shahi] went to Jaam Shorow where he spent six months in a hut behind the Textbook Board Building, henceforth, with Almighty Allah’s will, His Holiness Shah Sahib started to shower Almighty Allah’s creation with his benevolence.
Gohar Shahi. 2009. Retrieved on September 8, 2013.

On September 8, 2013, during a reflection, I realized that Bahu reached out, though Gohar Shahi, and connected more deeply with me. Shahi was, at the time, still in this world:

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Some people claim not to meditate. I would suggest that, perhaps, they are using the term much too narrowly. Broadly speaking, all of us meditate. In fact, we do so on a regular basis. The scientist meditates while developing the theories or explanations for her observations. Likewise, the contemporary artist ponders the physical universe using a visual analogy. Actually, in each of our lives, we meditate from moment to moment. However, the focus of that meditation might not always be ideal, and, due to the absence of self-mastery, an individual may easily become distracted.

Our human minds should, through effort and persistence, be properly regulated, as well as educated, not silenced or repressed. As a result of meditation, a particular echo can become, over time, what is termed in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) an anchor. The concept is quite similar to Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned stimulus and conditioned response. Through regular practice and patient persistence, silently repeating the echo may arouse the desired mentality.

In the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate student, Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) began a campaign called, “How’s Your Love Life?” The reference was to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Carnival-style machines, which supposedly measured one’s love life, were exhibited on campus. At the time, a cartoon appeared in the university’s student newspaper. The text read, “How’s Your Love Life? ... or how to sell religion like vacuum cleaners.” The remainder made reference to a prostitute short-circuiting the device. The organization requested an apology, but, as I recall, none was ever given.

Along similar lines, while meditation can, even when divorced from any spiritual objectives, often be beneficial, it has, in recent decades, been marketed and advertised, frequently using sexually provocative models, as a “feel-good” technique, a stress reliever, or an approach to physical and psychological wellness. People are told that, by regularly following certain costly instructions, by taking a series of expensive classes, by downloading a number of prepaid audio files, or by purchasing a collection of CDs or DVDs, they will, over time, become happier, healthier, or even wealthier.

Even though a disciplined application of meditation may produce many positive, even wonderful, experiences, meditation itself should not  be treated as merely a series of subjective observations. Rather, by engaging in the concentrated devotion of meditation, the human mind is trained to keep its emphasis upon the God or spiritual Teacher. Steadily, through persistent effort, spiritual receptivity may become a conscious habit. Therefore, the fruit of a regular meditative practice can be a personal transformation and, together with it, a gradual reduction in egotism.

Unfortunately, some schools of meditation present, perhaps at times misrepresent, various research findings which allegedly demonstrate the superiority of their own methods of meditative practice over those of others. As a result, for many individuals, meditation has been thoroughly disconnected from anything even remotely resembling spiritual development or devotion. Rather, in place of a genuine love, worship, and compassion, we find merely another commercial medium for hedonism, or personal pleasure seeking, consumerism, and capitalist materialism.

Here are several pages of links to web-based resources on meditation, mysticism, and related topics:

The Echoing Practice  has, for the most part, been inspired by my personal understandings of the Baháʾí Faith. If you are not a Baháʾí, I invite you to investigate this global religion or even to become a member online. The Baháʾí Faith teaches: the Oneness of God, the oneness of God’s revealed religions, the oneness of humanity, and the importance of daily communion with God. It is not a branch of the beautiful religion which is followed by Muslims. However, just as Christianity is rooted in ancient Judaism, the source of the Baháʾí Faith is Islam.

In addition, The Echoing Practice  is a tailor-made  version of Heartfulness Inquiry™, which is used in Unities of All Things™. Both practices are devotional and ecstatic (or “blissful”). In neither of the practices is a mantra conceived, as it is in some traditions, to be a form of “sound magic.” Echoing is the habit of loving devotion to one’s God or spiritual Teacher. It is not a mechanical method for obtaining something. Nevertheless, much more information, about other ways of meditating and on topics related to the Baháʾí Faith, has been provided with Heartfulness Inquiry.

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1 Zikr is Arabic for “remembrance,” “commemoration,” “recollection,” “invocation,” or “mention.” This term can refer, in a general sense, to remembering God under all circumstances. However, in meditation, the word usually  describes the repetition of sacred words or phrases. On the other hand, samaʾ (Arabic for “listening”), also a form of meditative remembrance, involves whirling, chanting, and prayer.

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2 Beloved (or Best Beloved) is a translation of the Arabic, Mahbub. This term expresses the desirable state of heart, in United Against Neurelitism, when approaching one’s God or spiritual Teacher.

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3 Allah (ﷲ) is the usual Arabic term for “the God” (Deity), while ʾilaha, “God,” is Allah without the definite article (al). Both of these words are related to (cognates of): the Aramaic, ʾElaha (“Mighty One”), the Hebrew, ʾEloah (“Mighty One”), and the more common plural form of ʾEloah, ʾElohim (“Mighty Ones”). Allah is often referred to as al-Haqq, the True (or Real) One.

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4 Nabi (plural, Anbiya) is the Arabic word for a Prophet of God.

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5 Bhakti is Sanskrit for engagement, allocation, or apportionment. The term refers to Hindu devotion. Sufism, in Arabic, is Tasawwuf. A Sufi can, in brief, be defined as a lover of one’s beloved God or spiritual Teacher. Although the Arabic word, Sufi, has an uncertain origin (etymology), the most widely accepted academic view is that it comes from suf (“wool”). Thus, a Sufi would be a “woolen one,” indicating the garments in which certain Sufis once clothed themselves. The Bhakti-Sufi movement of South Asia (800-1700 A.D.) brought together, in unity, many primarily oppressed populations of Hindus and Muslims. That interfaith movement, which remains my personal prototype or ideal type for devotion, has had an enduring impact upon South Asia. The confluence of these two spiritual streams has even influenced the modern Western world.

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6 “Path,” is translated from the Arabic, tariqa and from the Sanskrit panthan (a cognate with “path”).

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7 “Heart,” in Arabic, is qalb (plural, qulub). The Echoing Practice follows the way of the heart.

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8 Since God (Allah) is One (Tawhid, “Unifying” or monotheism), He Alone should be worshipped. Specifically, in The Echoing Practice, the Oneness of the Prophets (Prophets) is  the Oneness of God. That Oneness, Alone and without any partners (shirk, “sharing as an equal partner ”), should be worshipped through one’s God or spiritual Teacher. The popular view of shirk as either “polytheism,” the worship of more than one God or Goddess, or “idolatry,” the worship of objects or images, while not always  incorrect, is an oversimplification.

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9 Rasul (plural, Rusul) is the Arabic word for a Messenger or an Apostle of God.

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10 The Arabic verb, sallam (“to surrender”), is from the same Semitic root (S-L-M) as the nouns, Islam (Arabic, “surrender”), Muslim (Arabic, “surrendered one”), salam (Arabic, “peace”), and shalom (Hebrew, “peace”). True peace is found by surrendering one’s heart and will to one’s God or spiritual Teacher

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11 These qualites are discussed in the chapter titled, Echoes of Cosmic Unity. It is based upon The Unicentric Paradigm™.

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12 Breathing the Prophet™  was adapted from Breathing Baháʾuʾlláh™.

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13 Qi (sometimes spelled chi or ki) is, in the original Chinese, “breath,” “air,” “spirit,” or “gas.” However, in Japanese, the same word, qi, can be translated as “atmosphere,” “feeling,” “mind,” or “heart.” Prana, Sanskrit for “breath” or “vital life force,” is a similar concept to the Chinese qi.

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14 The Arabic term for the “self” is nafs. The human ego (the selfish self), as that word is commonly used, is al-nafs al-ammara, the “willful self” (literally, “commanding self” or “insistent self”). Figuratively, “killing” (in effect, burying) the willful self is called, al-fanaʾ al-nafs al-ammara. Nafs is related to (a cognate of) the Biblical Hebrew, nefesh (soul, self, life, creature, breath, or air).

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15 “Autism,” in Arabic, is al-Tawahud.

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16 This large collection of movements and perspectives is provided only for identification purposes. Readers should recognize one or more of them.

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Copyright © 2010- Mark A. Foster, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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