By Aparna Sharma
Religious and mystical texts abound with the ecstacy of the God-intoxicated, the great lovers of God compellingly pulled towards union with the object of their love. Aparna Sharma explores their world
Mirabai: her love for Krishna is legendary It is said that when we realize the self, all of life becomes an invocation… a calling out, a praising! Because we’ve fallen in love with who we really are. And when you’re in love, even television doesn’t matter! Nothing matters except that you want to think about the one you love, you want to be with the one you love, you want to touch the one you love, you want to talk to the one you love, sing to the one you love, lie down with the one you love. But what to do when we realize that the one we love is within us? How do we find Him?” says Krishna Das, in his Pilgrim of the Heart.
Lovers of God
The world, from time to time, has seen these lovers of God who found the ultimate Beloved within. Their stories abound.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the priest of Dakhineshwar Kali temple, fell into a trance on seeing the dark clouds gather like the dark Mother Kali or simply on hearing the Divine name. He could not be initiated into ritualistic worship of Kali because as soon as the teacher whispered the first holy word in his ear, Ramakrishna fell into deep, God-intoxicated samadhi.
Goswami Tulsidas was so intensely in love with the ‘Ram Katha’ that tears would stream from his eyes when he sang the name. So intense was his love that when he gave a murderer a share of ‘prasad’, it completely absolved the latter of his sins. Guru Nanak was so drunk on God that it came in the way of keeping accounts at his store. He would measure out wheat by counting, “Ek do teen (One, two, three) but fall into a trance the moment he uttered the number ‘tera’ (13) meaning ‘yours’ repeating ‘tera’, ‘tera’, ‘ sab tera’ (all Thine)
Bulle Shah even braided his hair and danced like a woman to please his ‘murshid’, Inayat Khan.
A traditional devotional song says, “Behold the ones who weep while chanting His name. Who dance in ecstasy and make the world dance in His name. Drunk with Hari’s love, who make the world drunk as well.”
Crowds followed dancing when Gauranga (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) stepped out with a song on his lips and anklets on his feet. His ecstasy touched thousands. Even trees, plants, birds and animals followed his irresistible chant, ‘Hari Bol! Hari Bol!’
Mirabai danced her way into the sanctum sanctorum of Krishna’s temple at Vrindavan where only men were supposed to enter. Her fervor was infectious as she came singing the divine name, dancing as if enchanted, holding her ‘ektara.’ The temple guards stood stunned, the air stopped, mesmerized. In an instant, like a breeze or a wave, Mira walked past the gates into the very heart of the temple. When admonished by the priest that no women were allowed inside, she replied, “I thought there was no other man besides Krishna. Are you too a man?”
The Lord is the only man for the lover… the only Beloved. The rest of the world are his lovers. The entire creation is an expression of His love.
“The greatest romance you can have is the romance with God… He is the Lover and our souls are the beloved and when the soul meets the greatest lover of the universe, then the eternal romance begins,” says Paramhansa Yoganandain in his book, Divine Romance.
Lips of insanity
At its peak, this love carries the ‘bhakta’ to the end of social mores or sanity. “Dance, Lalla, with nothing on but air,” sings Lalla Ded. “He who is stricken by love, sings and dances out of tune,” said Bulle Shah. And Rumi condones all, “Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy, absent-minded. Someone sober will worry about events going badly. Let the lover be.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: in ecstatic oneness with God Lovers of the Divine have populated every spiritual tradition of the world. Open any sacred book and love is in the air. The Song of Solomon, an anthology of love lyrics, is one of the most read sections of the Bible. The bhakti poetry of India, Baul music of Bengal, Troubadour verses of the middle ages, The Rubaiyaat of Omar Khaiyyam, The Jewish psalms, the Sufi verses, the songs of mystics and dervishes all sing of love for God.
Innumerable saints dot the history and literature of the world. Bhaktas like Mirabai, Kabir, Tukaram, Akka Mahadevi, Guru Nanak, Tulsi, Jayadev and Surdas, Sufis like Hafiz, Rumi, Rabia, Lalla, Bulle Shah, Sultan Bahu, became divinely wed to the infinite. Joan of Arc, St John of the Cross, St. Francis, Meister Ekchart, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa stand out among the lover saints from the West. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Ramakrisha are said to be actual embodiments of God Himself, just like Radha.
What really happens when we realize that the one we love is within us? How does it happen? First the soul needs to heed the call (American poet and Hafiz authority, Daniel Ladinsky, calls it the ‘Summons’). He quotes Hafiz in his book, I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz:
No one can resist a Divine Invitation.
That narrows down all our choices
To just two:
We can come to God
Dressed for Dancing,
Be carried on a stretcher
To God’s Ward,’
There are innumerable ways in which this summons can be heard. Perhaps as many ways as there are people. Some hear it in dreams or in an outbreak of visions that explode what they understood before about reality; some meet the Beloved first in the agony and revelation of human love; some are unnerved by loss or disease or bankruptcy or betrayal into re-examining everything in the light of Eternity. For some, love summons them in the disguise of a teacher; for others, love calls to them from the heart of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, or from an open rose, or in the leap of a dolphin,” says Daniel Ladinsky again, in his book, Perfume of the desert.
We all, at some point or the other, have felt that certain pull… a remembrance from a long forgotten past… a call that no words can describe, no reason can explain, because it arises from somewhere beyond…from times infinite.
The longing fire
Once the call is heard, the soul begins to awaken to its divine nature and responds. And thus begins the ‘processing’ of the individual soul. Kahlil Gibran calls it ‘love’s threshing floor’ and so are born songs of love and longing, or poems of intoxication and union.
When Krishna Das met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, he knew what love was and he knew longing. “All I wanted to do was to be with him. Maharaj-ji made me so crazy with love that the one overriding feeling I had while I was with him was the desire, the need, to be as close to him as possible. I tried everything from jumping over walls to bribing drivers of the Indian devotees to tell us where he’d gone. When I wasn’t with him, I burned with longing.”
“Now that the longing is awakened, what can I do? Can neither live nor die,” cried Bulle Shah and Nanak went so pale with longing that he asked the doctor taking his pulse to cure his aching heart instead.
“By and by the longing fire burns all the veils and the ego identity of the bhakta, leading him within. “Longing itself brings the cure,” proclaimed Jalaluddin Rumi. Slowly but surely, the mystery is unveiled. As the seeker deepens his experience of God, he has an astounding revelation that the Beloved he sought is nowhere else but within him. My lover is within me.
“A mystical unity is realized. The bhakta realises that he was never separate from the one he sought. “I am the One whom I love, and the One whom I love is myself,” said Mansur Ali Hallaj.
“I have lived on the lip of insanity
Wanting to know reasons
Knocking on a door, it opens
I have been knocking from the inside!” spake Jalaluddin Rumi.
The way of love, it seems, is only one – the way of annihilation. The only way to attain this unity is complete annihilation of the ego, total surrender, giving up of the individual self. All that the seeker was, thought, felt, desired seems to first be taken away. “For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you,” said Khalil Gibran. ‘Jau tau prem khelan ka chao sir dhar tali gali meri aao,” says the Guru Granth Sahib. If you wish to play the game of love, enter my street with your head on your palm. Thus, slaying more and more of his individual ego, the bhakta attains the state of perfected union.
‘Love came and emptied me of self,
every vein and every pore, made into a container to be filled by the Beloved.
Of me, only a name is left, the rest is You my Friend, my Beloved,’ wrote Abu Said Abil- Khier.
In deep ecstasy, the sense of separate identity or the sense of “I” thins and fades out completely. “The soul becomes blessedly lost to all but its own holy Being,” says Meister Ekhart.
The seeker disappears and all that remains is a vast, border-less sense of self or Awareness. From this vastness, love gazes on…
The mystery revealed
Miraculously, this inner revelation begins to light up many aspects of this love. The devotee becomes the deity and deity becomes him. “Anal Haqq” cried Al Hallaj (I am the Truth or I am Allah). ‘I and my Father are one.’ (John 10:30)
The ultimate perfection in the path of love is the revelation that the One Beloved is pervading everyone and everything in the universe. “Every atom babbles the mystery,” says Fakruddin Iraqi.
This ultimate mystery was revealed to Sri Aurobindo within the courtyard of the Alipore jail during his year-long confinement. “I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell, but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover… I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies,” reminisced Sri Aurobindo in The Adventure of Consciousness.
Thus, at the moment of realization, even that relationship between the individual and the Divine falls away and the unity of reality is seen as it is. There is always and only the Divine. Everything else was just a magic show of light and shadow and shape.
“There is only the mountain,” American poet and founder of the poetry website, Chaikhana, Ivan M Granger said. “Forever unknown, forever revealed…!
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