Read an Excerpt
The Signs of God
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi CenterCopyright © 2001 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
Lover and Beloved
Man is my secret and I am his secret. The inner knowledge of the spiritual essence is a secret of my secrets.
THE SECRET SUBSTANCE OF DIVINE LOVE
The mystical relationship of lover and Beloved is one of mankind's greatest secrets. It embraces all of creation and yet takes place within the human heart. The soul's love affair with God is a passion that transforms the whole human being and reveals the hidden face of the world. The mystical journey is an unfolding of this love affair, a giving of oneself to God through love. Because this love belongs to oneness, it takes us back to oneness. The wayfarer is brought home from a life of separation to an experience of being merged into Him.
This journey is only possible because of a substance within the heart, which the Sufis call sirr. Without this substance there would be no journey and no spiritual awareness, no knowledge of union. Sirr is a gift of God to those who love Him, and is given for the sake of realizing the truth and then being in service to truth. Sirr means secret and belongs to the mystery of divine love, of the relationship of lover and Beloved that takes place within the innermost chamber of the heart, the heart of hearts as it is called by the Sufis. This substance is the secret of the universe and the essence of His love for us. Hidden from the world because it does not belong to the world, sirr reveals to us the essential oneness of our relationship with Him.
Much of the work of the path is a process of preparation, an inner purification to enable the heart of the lover to contain His secret without its being contaminated by the ego or lower nature, the nafs. When the disciple is ready, then the sirr is given from heart to heart, usually through the presence of a living master, a sat guru. This substance of divine love is infused into the heart of the lover and activated by divine love. In the words of the tenth-century mystic al-Hakîm at-Tirmidhî:
Within the heart God placed the Knowledge of Him and He lit
it with the Divine Light. ... By this light He gave the heart eyes
The secret substance within the heart is the organ of divine consciousness, a consciousness of the oneness of God. A mystic is one who is able to bear this secret, to live His oneness. The path prepares us, but His gift is always an act of grace, given with love by love. And it brings with it the responsibilities of the heart, to be in service and to live according to the ways of love and not the ways of the mind or the ego. Love demands that we sacrifice ourself, because, in the words of the great lover al-Hallâj, "When truth has taken hold of a heart she empties it of all but herself."
In order for His secret to be infused into our heart we have to give our heart to God. Then our heart is "held between the two fingers of God, and He turns it as He wills." A mystic is someone who is born to do this work, "who was intoxicated by wine before the creation of the vine." Before we are born we are branded by love; we come into the world to be of service to love. Often unknowingly, we are taken into the arena of love, where we are asked to sacrifice ourselves. The blood of our heart, the tears of our soul are our pledge to love. Our duty is to keep alive the connection within the heart, so that His secret can work within ourself and within the world.
LIVING HIS LOVE
To be a lover of God is to be drawn into the mystery of love, into the unfolding essential unity that is hidden within the heart. This love that is given as a gift is born into consciousness with the tears of separation, with the longing that breaks open the heart. Love awakens us with the call of the reed that is torn from the reed bed, the anguish of the soul that comes to know that it is separate from its Beloved. The eleventh-century Sufi Abû Sa'id ibn Abî-l-Khayr said, "Sufism was at first heartache. Only later it became something to talk about." To be a Sufi is to live this cry of the soul, this primal pain of separation. Longing takes us back to love, and the price is tears stained with the blood of the heart.
The journey of the lover is a one-way street of love, and our tears carry us into an abyss of longing, of aloneness and anguish. But in this desert of desolation when despair seems our only company, something is born, something infinitely precious and tender beyond our understanding. Our soul senses the intimacy of its Beloved, that He is as close as "the tears that run between the eye and the eye-lid." We begin to experience a love affair that is as intoxicating as it is painful, as wondrous as it is terrifying. We are awakened to the softness of His touch, to the sweetness of His embrace.
These are the secrets of the mystic, of one who has been taken by love. For each lover this love affair is unique and often too intimate to be told. It is what we have always wanted, what gives our life its real meaning. Whether in the sweetness of His touch or the intense pain of being without our Beloved, we are caught in the grip of a love that consumes our whole being. The love and longing awakened within the heart are all that is real. In the moments of sweetness and of pain we know that we are connected to our Beloved. We feel the value of our heart's sorrow, and know how precious is this thread of longing.
The mystical path is living the connection of the heart, the innermost connection of love. We aspire to remain with Him, to keep our attention on our Beloved. We long to be with Him whom we love; we need to see the face of our Beloved. And yet the world distracts us, and so easily we seem to lose our connection. We are caught in the affairs of the world, in our daily desires and problems. How quickly do we forget our heart's true desire! The veils of the world close tightly around us, seducing us with its myriad images. And then suddenly our heart calls to us and again we remember. We turn back to Him to whom we belong. We are reawakened to love.
And so we make our gradual journey back to love, our spiraling path that takes us deeper and deeper within. He whom we love is always with us, whispering the secrets of love; and we need Him and yet forget Him. And in the midst of our heart, hidden even from our knowing, the mystery of divine love begins to reveal itself. In our heart of hearts the grace of God changes the substance of our being. Gradually we are permeated from within by a light that belongs to the sun of suns, by a love that is pure presence. "It takes time to make a soul pregnant with God," but this is the miracle that is being born within us.
Why are some chosen to live this life of love-longing? Because it is His will, because in the tapestry of His creation He has made some human beings to live the life of His lover. They are "branded by God" and can belong to no other. No other relationship will fulfill them; no human lover can take hold of their heart. They can fall in love with a human partner, but something is always missing, an essential note cannot be played. However much outer life seems to offer, only one thing really matters: the heart's love affair with God.
It is not easy to belong to God. He is a jealous lover and demands our complete attention. We give our whole life and our heart for the purpose of love. Pledged to love, we are emptied of everything that might interfere with the work of love. We are remade as a mirror for the love of God so that it can shine into His world. We are polished by our problems, by the difficulties of our life, and the pain of our love for our Beloved.
The work of the lover is to be attentive to love, to stay with the inner connection of the heart despite all of life's difficulties, despite the distractions that surround us. We cry, we pray, we fight to remain looking towards our Beloved. We strive to keep our heart clean. We work upon ourself diligently, with perseverance and patience. With the practices of the path, meditation, the dhikr (the repetition of the name of God), we aspire to remember Him with each and every breath. We live the fullness of our outer life, family and work, and at the same time struggle to keep our inner attention focused on the heart. For the one thing that really matters, that absorbs our inner attention, is the demand of our love for Him and His need for us.
THE REMEMBRANCE OF LOVE
Love embraces us and love tears us apart. Love is a knife that cuts us and a softness that kills us. We are taken away from ourself and given to our Beloved. We are given back to the oneness of love, His oneness that is stamped within the heart. How this happens cannot be known to the mind. It is too deep a secret. The life of the mystic is to live this secret, to live a giving of oneself that is complete and absolute, until nothing remains of the lover but a shell, an outer covering in which love can unfold its purpose. In the words of Majnun:
Love is the essence of my being. Love is fire and I am wood burnt by the flame. Love has moved in and adorned the house, my Self tied up its bundle and left. You imagine that you see me, but I no longer exist: what remains is the Beloved.
The mystery of lover and Beloved is hidden within the heart of every soul that is seeking God. His love is the thread that guides us back to Him, and our sorrow is the sweetness of our remembrance. And yet as a culture we have almost forgotten this love. As we wait on the borders of a new age there is a great need to remind ourself of our real nature, of the oneness that embraces every cell of our body and every sigh of our soul. We need to reclaim the sanctity of mystical love and make it conscious, to bring this ancient secret into the marketplace of our world.
His lovers are here for this purpose. They have come together from across millennia to awaken the world to its innermost connection of love. What is lived within their own heart belongs to humanity; it is an essential part of the mystery of mankind. Without this thread of divine love the song of the world would be lost, the music that gives meaning to our ordinary life would fade away.
And yet we stand on the edge of an abyss of forget-fulness. Caught up in consumerism, blinded by greed and rationalism, we have almost cut the thread of our soul's devotion. We are lost to such a degree that we hardly even know that we are lost. We have forgotten our real nature and the sacredness of all that is created. We think that we are here for our own purpose, and have forgotten that the world belongs to God.
Mystical love has an essential purity because it looks only to God. It is awakened as a memory of when we were together with our Beloved, and His lover longs to return to this state. Mystical love cannot be caught in the desires of the ego or the patterns that imprison us. His love is too free; its fire burns too hot. Mystical love reminds us of that which is pure and unpolluted, of that which is sacred and sings the name of God. Mystical love opens a doorway through which His grace can flow into this world. The essential oneness of lover and Beloved reminds us of what we have almost forgotten, that there is nothing other than God.
"He loves them and they love Him." (Qur'an 5:59) His lovers are born to live this mystery and bring it into the world. When their hearts cry to God His song is heard. When they melt in His embrace His love is felt. When the memory of the heart is awakened creation comes to know to whom it belongs. In the silence of our sorrow we know Him. In the bliss of union we celebrate His oneness. And the heart of His lover gives this secret of creation back to the world:
And in everything there is a witness for Him that points to the fact that He is One.CHAPTER 2
Living the Moment of the Soul
But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.
THE LINK OF LOVE
The secret of the mystical journey is that in the core of every human heart is a connection of love that directly links lover and Beloved. When God looks into the heart of those who belong to Him, this divine link is activated. It is in this moment that the journey begins, that the attention of the lover is drawn back to the source, and the lover begins to seek her Beloved.
The awakening of the heart, the activation of this secret link of love, is an act of grace, given because He wills. The work of the seeker, of the one who is drawn on the mystical journey, is to live this link of love. This journey calls to us, and leads us away from the attractions of the world to the deeper attraction of our heart's Beloved. The destiny of the mystic is to be awakened to this relationship of love, to live a life of longing, to live, fully, the life of a lover who seeks only her Beloved, and, ultimately, to be drawn by this longing into the mystery of union. The mystic must prepare for love's call, and live this strangest of love affairs amidst all of the contradictions and pressures of the world.
All of creation belongs to God and witnesses Him: every atom praises its Lord. This is the deepest song of creation, without which the world would fall apart. But only some human beings are called to make this work conscious, to know the secret face of creation. The hearts of those who are drawn into the arena of divine love are imprinted with a bond between lover and Beloved. This imprint is a part of the destiny of the soul and marks those who belong to Him. The purpose of the mystic's life is to live this belonging, until with every breath she feels the innermost link of love that runs between the worlds. Then the lover holds the two worlds united in her heart, and knows the secret of divine oneness.
For those interested in spiritual life, worldly challenges hold little interest. Instead, they are called to use their gift of consciousness to praise and honor Him who gave them this gift, whose divine spark they carry within their heart. In order to praise Him more fully, to worship Him more completely, these individuals are drawn into religious or spiritual lives. Through the teachings and practices of the path, through prayer and devotion, they are able to purify themselves so that they can worship Him more deeply, so that their spiritual aspirations can become less obstructed by worldly desires or by instinctual drives. The work of purification helps us become more accessible to His will and His love, so that we can listen more attentively to His voice and be more sensitive to His guidance.
Much of religious or spiritual life is a process of purification, whether this is done through exercise, chanting, fasting, or prayer. The more the practitioner works upon herself, the more she has access to her spiritual nature, the part of her that looks towards God. Gradually more and more of her consciousness becomes accessible to spiritual purposes; she is able to use more of this divine gift for its higher purpose: to praise and witness Him. This work is a lifetime's struggle, a continuing process of purification, and the individual is constantly challenged by conflicting feelings and thoughts, by the desires of the ego and the pull of her own lower nature, what the Sufis call the nafs.
Today much of the process of purification takes the form of psychological work: confronting and integrating the shadow and other conflicting aspects of our psyche. Finding our faults is not just a process of separating the light from the dark, but also of integrating our darkness. For each of us it means taking upon ourselves the responsibility of being human. As we are taken into the realm of our own complexities, the price of self-knowledge is always more responsibility. We have to become responsible for our own darkness, for our own pain and lack of self-worth.
Slowly, gradually, the effort is rewarded; light is found in the darkness and it becomes easier and easier to look towards God. The religious or spiritual life becomes all-embracing as the individual is drawn more completely into the circle of remembrance. Then His love shines more directly into our lives; the path of the soul is more visible. Those who remember God look towards Him and come to know how much they are loved and supported in all aspects of their lives, in every moment of their day.
Purification is an essential aspect of spiritual life and religious life. Yet one of the distinguishing features of this work of preparation is that it remains focused on the transformation of the seeker herself. Progressing through predominantly linear and often predictable stages, the process of purification brings the seeker along the spiritual path towards the goals specific to her spiritual system. Much of contemporary spirituality that centers on personal development and transformation uses models of purification as the basis of its approach. It is here that real mysticism is distinguished from spirituality, as the mystical journey is never about the mystic.
THERE IS NO DERVISH ...
For the lover of God purification is only preparation, part of the work that takes us to the arena of love. The real mystical journey is what happens when we lose ourselves, when we become absorbed in God. Within the circle of His love there is no path and no wayfarer, just a deepening absorption, a dissolving into what cannot be named. Here, the mystical truth that "there is no dervish, or if there is a dervish that dervish is not there" becomes a lived reality.
Excerpted from The Signs of God by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2001 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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