While in Damascus in the Summer of 2008, I decided to visit the Omayad Mosque, a magnificent structure that took ten years to build, rising to its full glory in 705 CE under the patronage of the Omayad Calif Al-Walid Bin Abdul Malki.
First I strolled around the huge courtyard to soak in the vibrant scene: clusters of black-clad women with cheerful faces, excited children running around with abandon, and moustached men presiding proudly over their families.
Once I felt included in the cheerful Islamic tapestry, I entered into the mosque to find a place for meditation. I settled on the huge colorful carpet a short distance from the tomb of John the Baptist, who is one of the sacred messengers for both Christians and Muslims.
As soon as I closed my eyes, my mind entered a meditative state, enjoying a flawless journey through the shuddhis (a three stage process to withdraw from the external physical world and identify one’s sense of self with the Cosmic Beloved), and a total absorption in the repetition of mantra and its inner meaning. I was grateful to the mosque and the years of worship that have given it a sanctified atmosphere (The Omayad Mosque is built on a site that has been used as a place of worship for the last three thousand years, with the original building used as a temple for Armean gods) for it helped guide me towards soul-consciousness.
After the meditation I reflected upon a conversation I had with Dada Krsnasevananda the previous day over breakfast. He was talking about a class he gives called “Asking the Right Questions.” He teaches people that one way to improve meditation is to pose philosophical questions such as “What is the nature of the Cosmic Mind?” or “How can I become love?” By asking such questions one gives one’s mind the opportunity to move in a more subtle direction. The question that popped into my mind was “Where does curiosity come from?” There appears to be something innate in human nature that drives us to know more about the universe. Whether we want more facts about a celebrity scandal, or more scientific explanations about the world, or answers to existential questions, we are smitten with a longing to gain a broader perspective.
After mediation I was reluctant to leave the mosque so I sat down in a busier section of the huge hall to observe and absorb. I witnessed white-clad imams hunched over the Koran; I witnessed the excitement of the faithful; and I witnessed a tiny girl, dressed in a crisp pink dress, radiating innocence. In that child I saw God. In that child I saw the Beauty of the universe. I was in awe, transported to a place of timeless celebration.
What fascinated me the most, however, were the prayer lines that formed spontaneously. At first there were three Moslems standing shoulder to shoulder, praying as one, then seven, then fifteen. I was moved by the sense of spontaneous brotherhood, a binding of strangers in a ritual that defines the Moslem’s endeavor to recognize the greatness of God.
The scene reminded me of the commotion I witnessed in Israeli synagogues last year when Jews would scramble to find a minyan, a quorum of ten men, to fulfill the minimum requirements of prayer. And my mind marveled at the grand history of the human endeavor to commune with something Great though worship.
When I finally stepped out into the world, which was now robed in the darkness of night, I encountered a mosque adorned with jewel-like lights. The sparkling illuminations had transformed this holy place into something magical, symbolizing for me at that moment the capacity to discover deeper spiritual layers within the temporal expression of life.
I was reluctant to leave the mosque, but I had a few more emails to send and sleep to attend to. Is there no freedom from worldly affairs!
What would it feel like to reside at the spiritual hub of the universe? What would happen if my individual consciousness merged in the collective consciousness?