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The Bond with the Beloved
The Mystical Relationship of the Lover and the Beloved
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi CenterCopyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
THE SHADOW SIDE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
The thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.
Abû Yazîd '1-Bistâmî
THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD.
Sufis believe in the Oneness of Being because there is nothing other than God. This quintessential truth is expressed in the shahâda, the saying "Lâ ilâha iliâ 'llâh" ("There is no god but God"). In the depths of our heart we know this, for this is the secret covenant between the Creator and His creation. We know that we are not other than God. The aim of every mystical path is to return to this primal knowledge, to know what we knew before we experienced separation from God.
This truth is hidden like an embryo within us. It is the essence of consciousness. In our normal understanding, consciousness necessitates duality, the separation of subject and object. If there is no differentiation there is no consciousness. We know and identify things by their differences. Everything that has been created is distinct and individual; no two leaves are the same. But the mystic knows that consciousness has another dimension in which things are known not because they are separate, but because they are all one: "In our hall of mirrors, the map of one Face appears." The recognition of oneness within multiplicity is the recognition of the Creator manifest in the creation. It is the real purpose of consciousness, as expressed in the Qur'an, Sura 7:172, when "before creation, God called the future humanity out of the loins of the not yet created Adam, and addressed them with the words: 'Am I not your Lord?' (alastu bi-rabbikum) and they answered: 'Yes, we witness it' (balâ shahidnâ)." The witness (shâhid) is the one who sees God in everything.
Paradoxically, in order to realize this state of consciousness we have to lose it. We have to experience separation from God in order to realize that we are never separate from God. The mystic is one who comes into this world with the prime purpose of rediscovering this state of union and then living it. In being born he surrenders himself to the pain of separation in order that he may come to know God more fully, may come to know God as He has revealed Himself in His creation. In His creation God has manifested both His eternal Majesty (jalâl) and His eternal Beauty (jamâl), and so allowed Himself to be known more completely. At the core of creation He has hidden an innermost secret aspect of Himself. The mystic's purpose is to discover this secret and offer it back to the Beloved. This secret cannot be told in words, but it is contained in the whole mystery of the mystic's return journey.
The journey from God back to God embraces the painful process of separation. Leaving the state of uncreated oneness we come into this world and are engulfed in forgetfulness. In being born we give ourself into this unknowing, this separation from the direct knowledge of God. But at the same time we carry within us the deep bond of the lover and the Beloved; "In memory of the Beloved we quaffed a vintage that made us drunk before the creation of the vine." This bond manifests as the sigh of the soul, the longing which is not only the pain of separation but also the knowledge of Him from whom we are separated. Without this knowledge there would be no pain. At the core of the longing is the knowledge that there is no separation, that the lover and the Beloved are always united. It is this paradox that burns within the heart of the seeker: we are united and yet we are separate, there is only oneness and yet we are caught in duality. This is the same as the paradox that consciousness necessitates separation and yet the highest form of consciousness is that there is no separation.
Those who make the painful journey home do so because they have not entirely forgotten this home. When they came into this world they kept part of the consciousness of union. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it does not allow us to become entirely engulfed in the things of this world, lost in the temptations of Maya. However involved we become in our outer surroundings there is always the feeling that this is not everything, that something more important is waiting for us. But this is a curse because it makes us feel that we do not fit in, we are always a stranger in this world. Often we do not know the reason for this, we do not know that it is because we are inwardly so close to the Beloved that He does not let us forget Him. We think that it is a fault or failure that we want something other than what the world has to offer. It can be particularly painful when we have parents who cannot understand this deeper need, and may even be jealous of what they sense to be an inner connection to something beyond their grasp.
One friend waited till she was over forty before she reconnected with an inner closeness that she had as a child. Then she dreamt a long and complicated psychological dream at the end of which she saw a figure standing in a doorway. Working with the dream she recognized that this figure was her "first love." First she associated her father as this first love, but then realized that it was not he but her relationship to God. As a child she had a very direct relationship with the Beloved. But her father, wanting her love for himself, sensed this deeper love, grew jealous of it and thus caused her to repress it. For many painful empty years she lived isolated from the one relationship that had real meaning. But then her first love returned, standing in a doorway, silently calling her back inside herself. He had always been waiting there, waiting for her to turn back to the bliss and the pain that is love's promise:
The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.
For another friend it was her mother who caused her to deny her spirituality; threatened by her daughter's knowledge of an inner softness that was unobtainable to her, she continually attacked her daughter's inner relationship. Driven by despair into depression, the daughter tried to give up her spirituality in order to live a normal, socially acceptable life. For a few years this seemed to work, but underneath life became meaningless. Life became so empty that there came the point where she would have died if she had not given herself to her inner vision. For those who carry the curse of remembrance spiritual life is not a choice but a deep and painful need, an open wound that can only be healed by the Beloved.
The memory of the beyond is like the grain of sand in the oyster shell that creates the pearl. It causes a painful friction between the outer world and the inner world. The stronger the memory, the greater the friction. Then one day this friction creates a fire that we cannot ignore. It is then that the spiritual quest begins in earnest. It is then that we consciously turn away from the outer world and seek the invisible source of our pain.
TURNING AWAY FROM THE WORLD
Traditionally the first stage on the Sufi path is tauba. Translated literally tauba means "repentance or change of heart." Yet this is misleading because in the religious context repentance means: "If I did something wrong I promise I'll repent, do some penance and promise not to do it again." But in the mystical context tauba is a turning of the heart. It is a spiritual awakening that can be triggered by an outer event or an inner happening, a dream or vision. When I was sixteen I happened to read a Zen saying,
The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection,
The water has no mind to receive their image.
This saying was like a key that opened an inner door, and for two weeks I laughed with the joy of the soul at what I saw. I started to meditate and discovered a reality that was more powerful and more meaningful than an outer world in which I came to realize I had long felt a stranger. Many years later I discovered that this was also a favorite saying of Bhai Sahib, the Sufi Master in Daughter of Fire. He would also often liken the enigmatic nature of the path to that of birds in flight, "Look at the birds in the sky.
Can you trace the path of their flight?"
The initial awakening of the seeker is a momentary glimpse of a different reality. It is always a gift and cannot be brought about by the desire of the student. Someone once asked Râbi'a:
"I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?"
"No," she replied, "but if He shall turn towards you, you will turn towards Him."
The spiritual quest is a response to a call: because He calls us to Him we turn away from the world to seek Him. Then begins the long and lonely journey home, the "flight of the alone to the Alone."
His call catalyses a spiritual instinct that is within us. Every human being comes into this world with two primary instincts: the will to live and the will to worship. It is this latter instinct that is so dynamically awakened by the Beloved that we are no longer content to worship Him, but we need to unite with Him. The seventeenth-century contemplative, Jeanne Guyon, describes this instinctual awakening:
As soon as God touches a seeker, He gives that new believer an instinct to return to Him more perfectly and be united with Him. There is something within the believer that knows he has not been created for amusement or the trivals of the world but has an end which is centered in His Lord. Something within the believer endeavours to cause him to return to a place deep within, to a place of rest. It is an instinctive thing, this pull to return to God. Some receive it in a larger portion, according to God's design, others to a smaller degree, by God's design. But each believer has that loving impatience to return to his source of origin.
The Beloved has awakened his lover to the deepest need of the soul, to the hunger that is the driving force of the seeker: "Nourish me for I am hungry and hurry for time is a sword." This hunger is the instinctual core of the spiritual journey and is often accompanied by a despair that it will never be satisfied. Spiritual life is a craving that cannot be satisfied by anything which the world has to offer, and its awakening can often be terrifying to the ego. For some people the experience of tauba simply makes sense of a meaningless life and they are only too glad to turn away from a world from which they already felt alienated. But there are also those who have struggled long and hard to realize their own independence and have made a successful life in worldly terms. Hearing His call resonate within their own hearts they know what it means. They know that everything for which they have struggled will be taken away, not just attachments to the material world, but also the sense of being able to determine one's own life. It is this latter illusion of freedom or self-determination, which in the West we value so highly, that is often the most difficult to surrender. Although the only real freedom comes from the surrender of the ego to the Self, the ego resists this with all its strength and powers of persuasion. Thus the seeker is torn between his response to the Beloved's call and his awareness of what this means. Yet the very fact that spiritual life evokes such a conflict and often a lengthy struggle of avoidance arises precisely from the individual's deep commitment, and his knowledge that once he walks through this door he will enter the arena of his own death.
Turning away from the world is embodied in the first part of the shahâda, Lâ ilâha, "there is no God." This is the principle of negation, for every spiritual path teaches that the goal is not to be found in the outer world, but within: "the kingdom of God is within you." Thus when we step upon the path our attention is turned from the outer world to the inner world. From the depths of our heart He calls us and through the spiritual techniques of the path we learn how to come towards Him, how to enter the inner world. Meditation is usually the most important practice, for it refocuses the seeker, first by stilling the outward activity of the mind and then awakening him to inner experiences. Other spiritual practices can have a similar effect. In particular the dhikr, the repetition of the name of God, keeps the inner attention of the wayfarer away from the world and turned towards God.
Being part of a spiritual group and sitting in the presence of a teacher can also help to keep the wayfarer focused on the inner direction of his quest. The teacher and the group, charged with the energy of the path, function as a magnet, attracting the inner attention of the seeker and pointing it towards the heart. On a more conscious level the presence of others for whom the inner quest is a real and serious undertaking helps to reinforce the individual's sense of purpose. Sitting with a group in meditation is a powerful reminder of a shared vision which beckons from the inner world. Similarly, the tradition and spiritual lineage of the teacher and the group support the wayfarer with the invisible presence of all those who have travelled this path in preceding centuries. The world's spiritual literature, which is now available as never before, also helps the individual to realize that his own desire for the beyond is a part of mankind's collective spiritual journey, which has always affirmed that Truth is an inner reality far transcending anything that can be found in the outer world.
All this support is particularly important in our Western materialistic culture which collectively denies the value if not the very existence of the inner world. It gives the wayfarer an identity and a sense of belonging which is needed in the most difficult first stages of the path. The initial experience of tauba turns our attention away from the world. We then consciously take up the role of the seeker, the spiritual wayfarer making the journey back to the Beloved. This journey appears to begin with His call that awakens us, and yet He only calls those who already belong to Him, whom He has sent out into the world in order to reveal the secret hidden in creation. Once I attended a conference in which someone asked, "How do you become a Sufi?" A member of the audience who consciously knew nothing about Sufism instinctively answered, "As far as I understand you do not become a Sufi. You always were a Sufi but didn't know it." Three years later the woman who gave this correct reply had a dream in which she was invited to join a circle of white-clad figures. When she told the dream she suddenly realized what she had long suspected, that she had always been a Sufi. But this dream signalled that now was the time for her to fully recognize this.
The journey home began the moment we left the state in which we knew we were not other than He. We surrendered ourselves into forgetfulness in order that He can know Himself more fully when we open our eyes and return to Him. Yet although this return journey begins with the moment of separation, for many years it is unconscious, hidden beneath the illusion of the world. The experience of tauba is the shock that brings this journey into consciousness. When the Beloved calls to us, the bond that exists and has always existed, outside of time and space, between the lover and the Beloved, is charged with the energy of love, allowing the higher consciousness of the Self to break through into ordinary consciousness. This creates a momentary awareness of our union with the Beloved that awakens us to the pain of our separation and forgetfulness.
In the moment of awakening the Beloved is present with us as never before. In this moment we consciously know that we are both separate and united with Him. As human beings we carry the consciousness of God, for our consciousness is part of the divine consciousness. It is His greatest gift which distinguishes us from the other forms of life on this planet. Thus, in this moment of awakening He makes known His purpose to Himself. He reveals to Himself the hidden mystery of creation which contains His experience of the pain of separation. Our longing to be reunited with God is none other than His own longing:
It is he who suffers his absence in me
Who through me cries out to himself.
Love's most strange, most holy mystery —
We are intimate beyond belief.
The lover has this most intimate relationship with the Beloved. In our longing we experience that He too is lonely, for He desires us more than we can ever know. In our desire to go home He shares this secret with us: that although He is perfect He needs us. He needs us because we are imperfect and can share this mystery with Him.
In the world that reflects His oneness all things are different. No two moments are the same and each petal of the rose has a different shape and a different color. In this world created by Him who is perfect nothing is perfect, as the oriental-carpet makers acknowledge when they purposefully include an imperfection in their design. This is the paradox of creation: He who is One comes to know Himself through multiplicity. He who is perfect sees Himself in the mirror of imperfection.
Excerpted from The Bond with the Beloved by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2012 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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