Read an Excerpt
The Transformation of the Heart
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi CenterCopyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
THE LONGING OF THE HEART
If the eight Paradises were opened in my hut, and the rule of both worlds were given in my hands, I would not give for them that single sigh which rises at morning-time from the depth of my soul in remembering my longing for Him. Bâyezîd Bistâmî
AWAKENING TO THE PAIN OF SEPARATION
The journey back to God begins when He looks into the heart of His servant and infuses it with divine love. This is the moment of tauba, "the turning of the heart." The glance of the Beloved awakens the memory of the soul, the memory of our primordial state of oneness with God. The memory of this union makes us aware that we are now separate from the One we love, and so ignites the fire of longing. The exile remembers his real Home and begins the long and lonely journey back to the Beloved.
Without the glance of the Beloved there would be no longing for God and no spiritual journey. It is only because He wants us that we turn away from the outer world and set out on the ancient journey of the soul back to its source. Someone once asked Râbi'a, "I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?" "Nay," she replied, "but if He shall turn towards thee, thou wilt turn towards Him."
The moment of tauba can be the glance of a teacher, as when Rûmî fell at the feet of Shams. It is rarely so outwardly dramatic, but the presence of someone who is spiritually awake can trigger a response of the heart, bringing into consciousness a hidden homesickness for one's real Home. Then in an instant the inner orientation of the individual changes. A doorway to the beyond has been opened, through which we glimpse the soul's deepest desire. Once this desire is awakened we are left with a sweet and terrible longing for what we have seen:
The world is full of beautiful things until an old man with a beard came into my life and set my heart aflame with longing and made it pregnant with Love. How can I look at the loveliness around me, how can I see it, if it hides the Face of my Lover?
For some their longing is awakened by a teacher, while others may be awakened by a dream, a saying, or a piece of music that strikes the heart's primal chord. It may be a moment in nature when, for an instant, the door between the two worlds opens, or even a shock that momentarily frees us from the grip of the ego and the mind. In whatever way the Beloved wills, He comes to us, for this longing is always a gift of God, sent to the exile inviting him to set out Home.
The awakening of longing is the initial awakening of the heart. We hear His call not with the outer ear but with the ear of the heart. This call is always present because each and every atom sings the song of remembrance, every particle of creation desires to be reunited with the Creator. His call is at the core of creation; without it the world would disintegrate. It is the centripetal pull which balances the centrifugal, expansive energy of creation. We feel this inner gravitational pull towards God as the magnetic attraction of love, which is experienced as a desire for closeness and intimacy. Love always draws us closer and closer towards union.
Love's call is at the very center of our being and we experience it reflected in human relationships. But we are not aware of its deepest purpose, we cannot hear its real message, until the heart is awakened:
Know that all will return to its origin. The heart, the essence, has to be awakened, made alive, to find its way back to its divine origin.
For some seekers this initial awakening is experienced as a growing feeling of dissatisfaction, what Saint Augustine called "the Divine Discontent." In the innermost chamber of the heart we have seen His face but this is hidden from consciousness. The heart speaks a language so different from that of the mind and the ego that we are not directly aware of what has happened. Instead we are left with a feeling of the emptiness of our ordinary life. The painful side of spiritual awakening is that the world becomes desolate. We may try to improve our outer situation, work harder, make money, or take a vacation. But we soon find that this is no answer. What is it that we really want? Why is the outer world losing its attraction? Friends and interests that used to be fulfilling can seem empty, and we are left only with a discontent that we cannot satisfy.
We long for what our heart knows to be real, for love's union which is hidden beneath the surface of our lives. When we are awakened to this real love we can never be satisfied by anything else. This is why the world begins to lose its attraction, why we become discontented. We have been given a glimpse of something else, the real substance of our own self. Longing is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it takes us Home, and a curse because of the pain it brings. Nothing can satisfy us but union with God. Râbi'a, who knew the deepest meaning of love's pain, expresses this in her usual straightforward way:
The source of my grief and loneliness is deep in my breast.
This is a disease no doctor can cure.
Only union with the Friend can cure it.
THE CRY OF THE SOUL
Within the heart, a sadness has been awakened that can never be healed by the outer world or the most meaningful human relationship. The soul begins to cry the primal cry of separation, the heart's longing for God. This is the song of the reed flute at the beginning of Rûmî's Mathnawî:
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separations,
Saying, "Ever since I was parted from the reed-bed, my lament has caused man and woman to moan.
It is only to a bosom torn by severance that I can unfold the pain of love-desire.
Everyone who is left far from his source wishes back the time when he was united with it."
This pain of longing is the most direct road back to God. Longing does not belong to the complexities of the mind or the veils of the ego. Within the heart the Beloved speaks directly to the lover, leading us through the fire of our own transformation. If we follow the thread of longing we step out of the ego, with its patterns of control, and enter the arena of the heart. It is the heart that hears His call:
Know that you are the veil which conceals yourself from you. Know also that you cannot reach God through yourself, but that you reach Him through Him. The reason is that when God vouchsafes the vision of reaching Him, He calls upon you to seek after Him and you do.
He calls us to Him with the irresistible attraction of love, which we experience as longing. In order to fully hear His call we have to allow ourself to be dissatisfied and unfulfilled, rather than trying to fill this painful vacuum with another distraction. We have to allow the pain of longing into our life. Longing is both the pain that burns away the veils of separation and the thread that guides us deeper and deeper within, until we are able to enter the innermost chamber of the heart where He is waiting.
In the West we are conditioned to believe that at the beginning of every journey we should know where we are going and how to get there. Caught in this conditioning, we apply it to spiritual life: what is the goal we seek and what are the practices that will take us there? But the real journey of the soul is not of our own choosing, nor can we find our own way. We are responding to a call that will take us beyond the known into the unknown, beyond the world of forms into the formless.
The spiritual journey is the most difficult undertaking. It is a voluntary crucifixion in which we die to the ego. Of our own accord we would never turn away from the world with its many attractions and illusions and begin this painful, lonely quest. It is only because He calls us, because He attracts our attention with His love, that we set out upon the path of no return. Like a magnet He draws us to Him with love, for, in the words of the Sufi poet Nizâmî, "If the magnet were not loving, how could it attract the iron with such longing?"
THE KNOWLEDGE OF UNION
The irresistible nature of His love is that it has the quality of completeness. All human love is incomplete, never totally fulfilling. But His love carries the song of union, the total oneness of lover and Beloved. This is what we knew before separation, before we were sent as exiles into this world. Within the innermost core of the human being there is a place where we remain one with God. The Sufis call this place the heart of hearts. It is the home of the Self, our divine consciousness. The Self is the part of us that is never separate from God. We carry this state of oneness within us and yet we have forgotten it. His love awakens us to its eternal presence.
He for whom we long is so close to us and yet we cannot see Him. He is "nearer to you than your very neck vein," and yet we cannot touch Him. In Rûmî's words, "You guard the treasury of God's Light — so come, return to the root of the root of your own self!"
The longest and most painful journey is the journey back to ourselves. Longing is our guide. It is the pull of His love that takes us through the darkness of separation. Longing keeps our attention on the heart and keeps alive the memory of our real nature.
The greater the longing the greater the attraction of the Beloved. This is why the Sufi prays, "Give me the pain of love, the pain of love for Thee! And I will pay the price, any price you ask!" The pain of love is the knowledge that we are separate from the one we love. This is not a mental knowledge but a knowledge of the soul which we feel in the heart. The soul knows the truth of love: that we belong to the Beloved. The soul has tasted the wine of union, "has drunk the wine before the creation of the vine." Before we come into this world we are with God.
The knowledge of union evokes the pain of separation. Only because we remember that we are one with God do we experience this state of separation. But unlike the memories of the mind, this memory of the heart does not belong to time. What we remember is the eternal moment of the soul when we are always united with God. The remembrance of the heart is an awareness of a different level of reality where there is no duality and no time. In the depths of the heart the lover and the Beloved are eternally united, and in everyday consciousness there is always separation. Love's most painful paradox which consumes the lover with longing is that we are both united and separate.
He awakens us to the eternal moment of union and the weary hours of separation. In the state of separation, longing draws us into the heart. Longing is both the call and the path we follow. His imprint is the sigh of the soul. When we give ourself to this primal pain we walk in His footsteps to Him:
By his own powers no one can find the way that leads to Him;
Whoever walks towards Him walks with His foot.
Until the beam of His love shines out to guide the soul,
It does not set out to behold the love of His face.
My heart feels not the slightest attraction towards Him
Until an attraction comes from Him and works upon my heart.
Since I learnt that He longs for me, longing for Him never leaves me
for an instant.
THE LIMITLESS OCEAN OF LONGING
Longing can take many different forms. For some it comes like a physical pain within the heart. For others it is a dull ache beneath the surface of their lives, a hidden grief, an unexplained sadness. Depending on its intensity it can cause overwhelming despair or a nagging discontent. It can appear unexpectedly, bursting into consciousness with the pain of lost love, and then melt away, leaving an unexplained sweetness or the exhaustion of spent passion. But deep within us this grief is always present, for it is the soul's remembrance of union. In the words of Meister Eckhart, "God is the sigh in the soul."
Sometimes we can embrace this longing and welcome it into our lives. We recognize how precious is this pain. But the heart's longing can also be terrifying, making us run and hide in the distractions of the outer world. We cannot contain or control this sadness. Nor can we rationally understand its purpose, for it draws us into a journey beyond any known horizon. Longing is as limitless as love's ocean. It has no end because love has no end. Dhû'l-Nûn tells a story of meeting a woman on the seashore who revealed to him the mysteries of the path. He asked her, "What is the end of love?" and she answered, "O simpleton, love has no end." He asked, "Why?" She replied, "Because the Beloved has no end."
Longing is without end because love is without end. Love and longing do not belong to the dimension of time or space, but to the infinite dimension of the Self. To be confronted by an endless ocean of grief is terrible. This is not an ocean we can cross, because, in Rûmî's words, this is "the shoreless sea; here swimming ends always in drowning." Only through dying to the ego can we merge into the infinite ocean of the Self. Confronted by the heart's unspoken ultimatum, how often do we run away from the sea's edge back into the complexities of the mind and the many illusions of the outer world?
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter ...
But once longing is awakened within the heart we can never escape it. However far we run it will always haunt us as a lover whom we have betrayed. Whatever our seeming achievements, life will have a sour note of deep disappointment. The poet who flees Him hears His feet following, and hears His voice saying, "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
Longing is the grief that consumes the ego. Longing is intimate, endless, tortuous, and terrible. It is the pain that underlies every heartache, every feeling of loss. If we feel rejected or abandoned by a parent, friend, or human lover, at the core of this feeling is the primal pain of separation from God. He with whom we were united betrayed us and banished us from paradise. From the state of union we were sent as exiles into this world of separation. Mankind's crucifixion is to be both human and divine — the soul which has tasted union imprisoned in a world of duality. Christ's cry on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" echoes deep within the heart of each of us. To embrace the pain of longing is to make conscious the deepest grief of humanity.
Nothing is more painful than to consciously feel within our own heart that we are separate from God. On the level of the soul all humanity knows this separation but it is hidden from consciousness. Only when we know that we are contained within His love can we bear the real intensity of this experience. In the moment of tauba, when He gives our heart a glimpse of unity, the knowledge of His love for us is imprinted upon the heart. This imprint allows us to consciously experience the intensity of separation. The momentary experience of union both awakens the pain of separation and enables us to contain the pain.
The knowledge imprinted on the heart is not the same as mental knowledge. The knowledge of the heart is both more certain and more elusive: more elusive because it is far finer and more difficult to grasp than the mind's thought-forms; more certain because it is not relative, but belongs to the absolute world of the Self. As we travel along the path we hear more clearly the wisdom of the heart and can distinguish its voice from the mind and the ego. But from the very beginning this inner certainty is present. The heart knows that we are held within the circle of love.
THE FEMININE SIDE OF LOVE
Love comes from the beyond and is our direct link with God. But like everything that is a part of creation, love has a dual nature, a positive and negative, masculine and feminine aspect. The masculine side of love is "I love you." Love's feminine aspect is "I am waiting for you. I am longing for you." The feminine side of love is the cup waiting to be filled, the heart longing for the wine of divine intoxication.
The lover waits for the Beloved, the soul waits for God. The mystery of the soul's feminine nature is one of love's secrets. The sixteenth-century Indian princess and poet, Mirabai, knew this. Once, because she was a woman, she was denied access to one of Krishna's temples by a famous theologian and ascetic, Jiv Gosvami. She shamed him with the words, "Are not all souls feminine before God?" He bowed his head and led her into the temple. The Song of Songs also celebrates the soul's feminine relationship to God in mystical symbolism filled with sensuality:
I sleep but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh, saying, "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night...."
I rose up to open to my Beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
Excerpted from Sufism by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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