Seeking - Only God
by Narendra Murty
Sufi dervishes swirling in their longing to merge with their Beloved The path of love is a unique approach in the field of religion. Each of the great organised religions has a particular emphasis. For instance in Buddhism, the emphasis is on meditation, in Christianity, on prayer, in Islam, on submission to the Lord’s will, and so on. But love for the Supreme Being is a unique approach. Since the dawn of history, God was a force to be feared and propitiated. The Hebrew God, the God of Abraham, was a jealous and vengeful God. He punished for wrongdoing. He brought floods to deluge the earth and destroyed the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, because mankind had disobeyed and strayed from His path. However, the path of love is the religion of an evolved consciousness, from the God-fearing man to the God-loving man. God is worshipped not because he is feared. God is worshipped because he is loved. Not propitiating God, but desiring God. Not for the reward of paradise but for His own sake.
Rabia, the woman Sufi saint, says, “God, whatever share of this world Thou hast allotted to me, bestow it on Thine enemies; and whatever share of the next world Thou hast allotted to me, bestow it on Thy friends. For Thou art enough for me.”
That is the path of love, not the fear of hell, nor the greed for heaven, but the desire for God. In such a path, there is sweetness and longing.
|When you desire a human being, it is love, and when you desire God, it is Bhakti.|
In India, the Hindus have given birth to a completely new approach to the path of love. The love for God, they call bhakti (translated as devotion but that is not accurate). When you desire a human being, it is love, and when you desire God, it is bhakti. God is established as a living person in one’s life. A living person with whom one relates, with whom one talks, with whom one shares joys and sorrows. It is as if a person is there in the house, not an abstract person somewhere in the skies, but a living presence in one’s own life.
The relationship between the bhakta and his God has taken several forms. One is the parent-child relationship where God is loved as the parent (Ramakrishna and his Mother Kali), child-parent, where the devotee becomes the parent and God becomes the child (between Surdas and the child Krishna), the master-servant relationship, or the between friends relationship (like the friendship between Krishna and Arjuna) and finally the husband-wife relationship where God is the husband and the devotee is the wife (Krishna and Meera). To others, it may seem like heresy and blasphemy to treat God as your parent or child or husband, but who can deny the reality that the bhakti tradition of India has produced many God-realised saints? Such saints whom even Westerners had held in awe? Like in the case of Ramakrishna (a Kali bhakta) and his Western admirers like Max Mueller and Romain Rolland?
But there has also been another expression of bhakti, which is quite remarkable. Saints like Nanak and Kabir showed a path of love, where there was love and devotion, but their God was formless. The path of the Sufis is also the same expression, and it is a mirror image of the human love between a man and a woman. But there is a difference. The Sufi path is the path of Love/Mohabbat/Ishq – the same expressions we use for human love. The difference? The beloved is God. Loving an invisible lover? Yes, that is what it is. One verse puts it like this:
Aashiq dikhta hai, mashuk dikhe nahin,
Dekhi kisi ne aisi aashiqui nahin!
The lover is visible; the beloved, invisible
Who has ever seen or heard of a love like this?
The ultimate goal of a Sufi’s love is not possession of the beloved, but losing one’s identity, one’s existence itself, in the union with the beloved. That is where it differs from the way humans love. The imagery of shama (flame) and parwana (moth) is an apt representation of Sufi love. The moth is so in love with the flame that it burns itself and ceases to exist to be one with it. It loses itself in the union with its beloved. The moth represents the human ego and identity. The moth cannot unite with its object of love (flame) by retaining its existence and identity as a moth. It has to annihilate itself in all-consuming love. In such a path of love, the self and the beloved cannot exist together. The Sufis call the obliteration of one’s own identity in the madness of love, Fana (annihilation).
Kabir, the weaver-sage, was a great lover of the
formless God We find one of the most beautiful expressions of this love in a parable from The Masnavi, the spiritual masterpiece of Jalaluddin Rumi:
After long years of search, I found the house of my beloved and knocked on the door.
“Who is there?,” a voice called from inside.
“It’s me,” I replied. There was silence and door was not opened.
I went away feeling hurt and rejected. For long years, I wandered but my lovelorn heart took me again to the door of my beloved. I knocked.
“Who is there?,” said the voice from inside.
“It’s me, your lover. Please open the door.” However, the door remained closed and did not open.
Again, I went away and wandered for many years. My pain and longing increased day by day. I roamed the streets like a madman. People stared at me and whispered in each other’s ears: ‘He has been driven to madness by love.’ And one day without my knowing, I found myself again at the door of my beloved. I knocked.
“Who is there?,” the voice asked again.
“It is Thou,” I replied. The door opened.
“Come in,” the voice said. “For there is no room for two here.”
It is what the Sufis call the Mystic Union. It is perhaps the highest expression of the path of love. Relationship one can understand. However, it is not even a relationship. An utter madness, intoxication, takes possession of the lover’s heart, which nothing can cure except the complete union with the beloved. No respite, until one has completely erased one’s identity in all-consuming love.
But why would anybody want that kind of love? What is the point if we lose our own selves? Is it not scary? Buddha said, “I gained nothing at all from Supreme Enlightenment, and for that very reason it is called Supreme Enlightenment.” A very enigmatic and puzzling statement! No gain at all? But luminous wisdom it is! Truly, Supreme Enlightenment is beyond all sense of utility, gain, and profit. Moreover, when the individuality itself gets extinguished in the experience of Nirvana, who is left behind to calculate gain? Ordinary people, who love in the ordinary way, come with such objections, because we think in terms of what we could gain out of our love – happiness or joy or whatever. But the Sufiana Ishq is way beyond all these calculations.
Cut to another time. Another place. Fourteenth century A.D. India. A poor weaver, intoxicated with the love of God, sings a song:
Jab main tha, tab Hari nahi,
Ab Hari hai, aur main nahi;
Prem gali ati saankiri,
Ya mein do na samahi
When I was, God was not,
Now only God is and I am not;
Very narrow is the path of Love,
Here two cannot go
Kabir gives the same expression for such self-obliterating love. How can two travel on the path of love? For the love is beyond all relationships, all duality. That too is Advaita, Non-duality. It is the Mystic Union. The highest goal that love can aspire to. For when All is One, where is the question of I and Thou?
The light in the soul, the eye by which it sees, and the objects of its vision, all are one.
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