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Monday, February 21, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous: "We Have No Monopoly"

In Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson wrote that "we have no monopoly" on spiritual awakening, and that we should "be quick to realize where religious people are right." The one thing unique to A.A., he famously said, is the ability of one alcoholic to relate to another alcoholic at "depth."

Inayat Khan (1882-1927)
Reading an online text on basic Sufi teachings (Sufism is purportedly the 'mystical branch of Islam') by Inayat Khan, one of the first modern Sufi teachers to write widely on Sufism for the West, I was impressed (yet unsurprised) by the similarities between this free online text and the chapter "We Agnostics" in the big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The following is a juxtaposition of basic assertions from Khan's article ("A Sufi Message of Spriritual Liberty") and Chapter 4 ("We Agnostics") of the Big Book.
"If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experi- ence will conquer." (A.A., p.44)
"We may ask: why we should worship God, and whether the theoretical knowledge of His law in nature is not sufficient For the highest realization. The answer is: no. Theoretical knowledge of a subject can never take the place of experience, which is necessary for realization." (Khan, "Worship")
"We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." (A.A., p. 46)

"(N)ature consists of different personalities, and each of them has its peculiar attributes. The sum total of all these personalities is One, the only real personality. In relation to that One all other personalities are merely an illusion. Just as, in a limited form, a nation or a community is the sum of many personalities. Just as nature manifested in numerous names and forms is still called nature, singular not plural, just as the individual combines within himself the different parts of his body, arms, limbs, eyes, ears, and is possessed of different qualities yet is one person, so the sum total of all personalities is called God." (Khan, The Personal Being)

AA Co-Founder, Bill W. (1895-1971)
"We discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him." (A.A., p. 46)

"We may ask: why we should worship God, and whether the theoretical knowledge of His law in nature is not sufficient For the highest realization. The answer is: no. Theoretical knowledge of a subject can never take the place of experience, which is necessary for realization. Written music cannot entertain us unless it is played, nor the description of perfume delight our senses unless we smell it, no recipes of the most delicious dishes satisfy our hunger. Nor can the theory of God give complete joy and peace; we must actually realize God or attain that state of realization which gives eternal happiness through the admiration and worship of nature's beauty and its source." (Khan, Worship)
"When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self- imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?" (A.A., pg. 53)

"(T)he philosophic view (is) that God is the beginning and end of all, having Himself no beginning nor end. As a Sufi mystic has said, 'The universe is the manifestation of Allah, where from His own unity He created, by involution, variety."(Khan, The Personal Being)
"(D)eep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there." (A.A., pg. 55.)
"Inspirations are more easily reflected upon spiritual persons than upon material ones. Inspiration is the inner light which reflects itself upon the heart of man; the purer the heart is from rust, like a clean mirror, the more clearly inspiration can be reflected in it." (Khan, Dreams and Inspiration.)
"Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us." (A.A., pg. 55, emphasis added.)
"The wise man by studying nature enters into the unity through its variety, and realizes the personality of God by sacrificing his own. 'He who knows himself knows Allah' (Sayings of Mohammed). 'The Kingdom of God is within you' (Bible). 'Self-knowledge is the real wisdom' (Vedanta)." (Khan, The Personal Being.)
Thus, the experience of A.A.'s early members is fundamentally the same as all the world's great wisdom traditions: Once you have looked everywhere else externally, the truth of Being - of God, as we come to understand that concept - is deep down within us.

Early in the We Agnostics chapter we read: "Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? (emphasis added).

William James (1842-1910)
The "how" to find this power is the 12 Steps; the "where" is clearly "deep down within us," below and above "the ego;" below and above what Bill termed "that punishing inner dialogue;" below and above what the great psychologist, and author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James termed "the stream of consciousness."

In We Agnostics, Bill notes that, "(m)any of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism."  However, he cautions, "(t)his sort of thinking had to be abandoned.

In As Bill Sees It, Bill assures us that A.A.'s , "(H) ave found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him." God's "Grace" is available to all, both to those who actively seek that understanding of "a Power greater than ourselves," and even those who don't seek but are, rather, led there inevitably by their intellect, and the wisdom that the intellect naturally breeds. As Inayat Khan notes:
"Intellect is the knowledge obtained by experience of names and forms; wisdom is the knowledge which manifests only from the inner being; to acquire intellect one must delve into studies, but to obtain wisdom, nothing but the flow of divine mercy is needed; it is as natural as the instinct of swimming to the fish, or of flying to the bird. Intellect is the sight which enables one to see through the external world, but the light of wisdom enables one to see through the external into the internal world."
Alcoholics Anonymous, 2nd Ed. (pub. 1952)
The Foreword to the 2nd edition of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that, "Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization.Neither does A.A. take any particular medical point of view, though we cooperate widely with the men of medicine as well as with the men of religion. Alcohol being no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross section of America, and in distant lands, the same democratic evening-up process is now going on. By personal religious affiliation, we include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists."

I find in my own recovery that it is very beneficial to read amongst all of the world's great wisdom traditions in order to further my own understanding of that "Great Reality deep down within us." Inayat Khan's "A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty" is a concise article on the basic tenets of Sufism, the most mystical school of Islam, tenets from a tradition that is largely overlooked in the media.

For perhaps the best visceral understanding of Sufism, I recommend (as was recommended to me by one of my first spiritual teachers in A.A.) Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi - a translation of the poems of Sufism's greatest poet and the founder of one of Sufism's most influential "schools"  - Jalalludin Rumi.

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