The Paradoxes of Love

The Paradoxes of Love

by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780963457462
Publisher: The Golden Sufi Center
Publication date: 05/28/1996
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 858,223
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi teacher specializing in the area of dreamwork.

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Paradoxes of Love

By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

The Golden Sufi Center

Copyright © 1996 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-890350-86-4



I want union with Him and He wants separation; thus I leave what I want so that His wish comes true.



The spiritual path begins when the heart is awakened to His eternal presence. The Beloved looks into the heart of His lover and in that instant the lover knows the secret of divine union, that the lover and the Beloved are one. The glance of the Beloved carries the consciousness of His eternal presence.

The Sufis call this glance the moment of tauba, the turning of the heart. The inner awareness of His presence turns the heart away from the world and back to God. He calls us back to Him with a momentary glimpse of His face. This glimpse is love's most potent poison that begins our dying to the world, our journey back to God, for "How can I look at the loveliness around me, how can I see it, if it hides the Face of my Lover?"

The inner awareness of union awakens us to the pain of separation. When the heart knows that in its innermost essence it is united with God, we are confronted with our own isolation, with the knowledge that we are separate from God. It is only because we have been given a glimpse of union, had a sip of this divine wine, that we are made conscious of separation. Without the knowledge of union, how could we know that we are separate? Without having experienced the bliss of His presence, how could we know the agony of our own isolation? The pain of longing is born from the glance of God.

From the beginning of the path, the opposites of separation and union are engraved into the heart and psyche of the spiritual wayfarer. The consciousness of union becomes the pain of separation that reminds us of our real Home. The heart's remembrance of its Beloved is kept awake by the fire of longing. We long for Him whom we love, and the greater the love, the greater the pain of longing. Love and sadness become the substance of our inner existence. In the words of 'Attâr,

The pain of love became the medicine for every heart,
The difficulty could never be solved without love.


Union and separation, love and longing, sweetness and despair, the polarities of the mystical path leave us bewildered and confused. Why are we left here behind the veils of separation when we know that separation is an illusion? Why are we caught in the prison of duality when our heart knows the deeper truth that "everything is one"? The more we meditate and pray, the more we remember Him whom our heart loves, the more alienated we feel in a world that appears to have forgotten Him. Somewhere we know what it is like to be loved beyond measure, and here we are left in a world where love is too often equated with demands and co-dependency. The eternal question of "Why are we here?" has an added poignancy and poison when we have felt the infinite nearness of our real Home.

He whom we love has abandoned us and only the pain of separation reminds us that somewhere He is "closer to us than our very neck vein." We carry the pain of remembrance in honor of our love, yet only too often we feel betrayed. How can such a Lover desert us? How can such a Beauty veil Her face? Doubts bombard us as the mind tries to convince us of the stupidity of our quest: to look for what you cannot find ... to long for an invisible Lover who has only brought you pain. ... In many ways consciousness crucifies us on our search. The subtleties of torture with which the mind can torment are known to most travellers on the path of love.

Underlying these difficulties is the fact that while the nature of love is to draw us to union, the nature of the ego is separation. Love comes from the heart, the innermost core of our being which is our connection to the Absolute. Love is "the essence of the divine essence," and so dynamically pulls us towards oneness. But the ego is born out of separation. The ego's existence is defined by being different: "I am different from you." The path towards union with God takes us away from the ego with its sense of separate existence and individual identity. This is why the Sufi says that the first step towards God is the step away from oneself. Love calls us to come away from ourself and enter the abyss of oneness where only the Beloved exists.

The ego and the mind belong to a dimension of separation and duality. The ego exists through its sense of individuality and separation; the mind only functions through duality: through comparison and differentiation. The power of love lifts the veils of duality, threatening the ego and confusing the mind. The ancient path of the mystics takes us back to the source where distinctions and differences dissolve just as "sugar dissolves in water." On this journey the ego and mind rebel as their identity and function are attacked. Love draws us into the gladiatorial arena in which we fight our own liberation and resist the pull towards oneness. But those whose hearts are committed know, like the gladiators of old, that death awaits them. They know that they have to lose themselves in order to find their Beloved.

We hide from the love which alone can heal us. We run from the Truth which torments us. But like the encroaching tide, the tremendous power of love gradually smoothes away the ego's paltry marks in the sand. Slowly we come to recognize the infinite ocean as our real Home, an ocean where, in the words of Rûmî, "swimming ends always in drowning."


Paradoxically, we need the experience of separation to draw us to union. The state of union is the natural state of the soul. The experience of union is the "wine that made us drunk before the creation of the vine." But this secret, hidden within the heart, requires the pain of separation to bring it into consciousness. The pain of love is the effect of the magnetic attraction between the soul and its source. When we feel the heart's pull we feel the desire of the Beloved to become conscious within the heart of the lover:

Not only the thirsty seek the water,
the water as well seeks the thirsty.

Separation and union are woven together to form the very fabric of the journey. While the heart knows the secret of union, the ego is stranded in separation. The inner world haunts us with this promise of oneness and the outer world tempts us with so many reflections. These are the twin poles of our existence, what is hidden and what is manifest, the Creator and His creation. The mystical journey leads us along this axis of love, the path from the creation back to the Creator. On this journey we bring the seed of our own consciousness and lay it at the feet of our Beloved. We bring an awareness of separation into the arena of union.

"I was a hidden treasure and I wished to be known, so I created the world." From His solitary aloneness He created the world and brought into play the opposites of day and night, positive and negative, masculine and feminine. In this world He manifested His attributes, His divine Names, the names of majesty (jalâl) and the names of beauty (jamâl) or the names of severity (qahr) and the names of gentleness (lutf). These pairs of opposites create the dance of life, the unending dance that comes from the unmanifest, inner world, onto the stage of manifestation. A human being, born onto this stage, is a part of the dynamic interplay of opposites, but at the same time we carry the unmanifest oneness as a memory imprinted into the innermost chamber of the heart, the "heart of hearts."

Man is My secret and I am his secret. The inner knowledge of the spiritual essence is a secret of My secrets. Only I put this into the heart of My good servant, and none may know his state other than Me.

In His world of duality we carry the essence of His oneness. The work of the mystic is to make conscious His oneness and offer it back in devotion. Thus we make Himself known to Himself. Without the stage of separation this journey would not be possible. It is the interplay of opposites that reflects His divine Oneness back to Himself. Without the mirror of creation He could not see His own face.


The wayfarer needs to contain the primal contradiction of separation and union. Born into separation, we all carry the seed of union. But in forgetfulness we abandon ourself to separation, to the world of the ego. We are so easily lost in the maze of mirrors that forms His world. Sometimes, as if by accident, we glimpse a reflection of something other than the ego and its desires, a hint of a reality behind the veils of manifestation. Sometimes in a dream we are shown a different horizon where the sun never sets. The Other, so near and so hidden, haunts us with a memory of oneness that some call paradise.

Rationally we dismiss these signposts because they point in a direction other than the goals of our conscious life. But those whose destiny it is to make the journey Home are not allowed to forget. The eternal memory of the soul has been burnt too deep to be rejected as childish fantasies. The hunger for Truth eventually surfaces, battering on the door of the heart and even affecting the mind. Our world of duality begins to be permeated with a desire for oneness; separation longs for union.

Turning away from the world, we embrace the mystical quest. We respond to the call of the Simurgh, the mythical bird that lives beyond the mountain of Qâf, in the cosmic dimension of the human being. The way there is inaccessible, and only madmen and lovers can make the journey. The Simurgh is so close to us but we are far from him. "Many lands and seas are on the way. ... One plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling sometimes weeping."

Following the thread of our own spiritual destiny we walk towards union. We seek what cannot be found, for how can duality discover oneness? In the experience of union all duality disappears. There is neither wayfarer nor goal. This is the state of fanâ, annihilation. The lover is lost in the Beloved. Only the moth consumed in the flames of love knows the true nature of fire, but who is left to know? At the very center of her own existence the lover discovers the truth of nonexistence. The manifest returns to the unmanifest and the cycle is completed.

In the journey back to nonexistence, what had been hidden is revealed. The secret at the core of creation is made conscious. But who or what carries this consciousness? If there is no lover, who knows the nature of love? If there is no longer any separation, how can there be consciousness of unity? He who is One and Alone needed creation in order to become known. He needed to create duality in order to reflect His own oneness. The lover needs to remain in duality in order to be a mirror for her Beloved. This mirror reflects His unity both to Himself and to the world. In order to make conscious His oneness the lover has to remain partly in separation. This is one of the most painful paradoxes of the journey.

In meditation I have had the experience of being dissolved into oneness, lost in the nothingness of true being. Here there is the deepest fulfillment and absolute security. Beyond the mind is a belonging in which one experiences one's true nature as it always is. In these moments one is forever embraced by an emptiness that is absolute fullness. These are the experiences one has struggled to reach; they are the fruits of all of one's efforts of meditation and inner work. In the moment of the experience there is no time, no sense of limitation. But then one returns from meditation to be surrounded again by the images of the mind and the identity of the ego. Something so real and infinitely precious seems now only a memory. The ego has drawn its veil and then the world makes its demands. We have worldly duties, a schedule to keep.

When I first experienced being drawn back into duality there was a sense of regret, a longing to remain beyond the ego. Why did I have to come back into the conflicts and difficulties of everyday life, return to a reality which I knew to be an illusion? But over the months this regret disappeared. Although every meditation did not take me back into the dimension of true being, sometimes I would be drawn into this emptiness. I came to realize how such an experience is always a gift, given by Him to whom I belong. The experience would remain as long as was necessary, and return when He willed. At the same time I began to understand in my heart how I have a duty to remain here in this world. His gift could only be fulfilled by my returning to duality. There was a joy in coming back to the world with a knowledge of oneness, for I knew that He had shared with me what is hidden within creation.

For Him non-being and being are two sides of one coin, two aspects of His absolute nature. Returning to duality completes the circle of love. What is hidden becomes invisibly revealed, and life manifests its deepest purpose within our own individual existence. For me this revelation was not dramatic or mind-shattering; rather it was a deep awareness of everything being as it should be, of a primal meaning being made conscious within the heart. From the heart this meaning and sense of purpose becomes infused into every aspect of the psyche, every cell of the body. Even the mind is included, because as it comes to know its own limitations it also carries a reflection of the beyond.

We desire union but He needs our separation. Surrendering to the spiritual path means to carry the two worlds of oneness and duality. At the beginning this is a crucifixion. We glimpse oneness and yet remain caught in separation. We taste the fruits of union only to be thrown into the experience of separation. But gradually the duality between the two worlds dissolves in the deeper recognition of His oneness. Returning to duality we carry the secret of the heart, the recognition of oneness into the marketplace of duality. Our desire for union is surrendered to His need for separation:

    A thousand times
        sweeter than Union
    I find this separation
        You have desired.
    In Union
        I am servant of myself,
    In separation
        my Master's slave;
    and I would rather
        be busy with the Friend
    whatever the situation
        than with myself.

The lover longs to be united with his Beloved. But deeper than this longing is the surrender of the lover's soul through which the Beloved can make Himself known both to Himself and to His world. The Beloved needs the lover to carry His secrets of oneness, to be a vessel for the mysteries of love and enable the creation to reflect His hidden Face. The lover is always the servant of the Beloved, and in this state of servanthood there is such fulfillment that surrendering to duality is a joy. The lover desires nothing more than to be used by the Beloved.

The wayfarer walks the narrowest path that runs between the two worlds. In the states of union the lover is lost in the Beloved, and in the states of separation the lover carries His hidden treasure into the world. In love and devotion we renounce union and embrace separation. But because union is the pre-eternal state of the soul and the essence of love, union can never be lost. In love union is always present. In the depths of the heart lover and Beloved are one, as al-Hallâj exclaims:

I saw my Lord with the eyes of the heart
And said: "Who are you?" He answered: "You!"

As we live our devotion in our daily life, the heart's knowledge of oneness becomes infused into consciousness. Bringing His secret into the world, we come to know His oneness more fully. As His servant and love's slave we carry both our own separate existence as lover and the knowledge that only the Beloved exists. Existence and nonexistence are bound together in service.


Surrendering to separation means embracing the contradictions of the world, the difficulties of the present time and place. Today in the West we live in a culture whose material values appear antithetical to the spiritual quest. The path of the Sufi has always stressed the importance of being an integrated member of society, often "indistinguishable from the crowd." Through our normal outer appearance we are able to work in the world without evoking prejudices or other barriers. Sufism is a path of the householder, living according to the needs of the time and place and the people. In our Western society, where, for example, one may need a car or a computer to make a living, unprecedented material needs are placed on the shoulders of the wayfarer. Embracing the two worlds has never been more difficult.

The work of the wayfarer is to live a balanced outer life while keeping the inner attention on the path and on the needs of the Beloved. Our consumer culture attempts to grip all of our attention with desires and a feeling of unfulfillment that can only be answered by the material world. This material emphasis appears to run counter to the spiritual path, and yet it is so all-pervasive that it cannot be denied. It dominates the collective consciousness of our time.

One way to live in the world and yet be free from the grip of material greed is to discriminate between needs and desires. Needs are what is necessary for everyday life — food, clothing, transportation etc. — and will depend upon our outer circumstances; the needs of someone providing for a family, for example, will be different from those of someone living alone. Because we need to be integrated within our external environment, our judgments of what constitutes a need must be flexible. A woman working in the film or television world in Hollywood, for example, will need to be more fashionably dressed than someone living in a small country town. The wayfarer needs to be free to respond to the needs of the environment.


Excerpted from Paradoxes of Love by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 1996 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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