Love: Human and Divine
from Toward the One, Volume 5, Spring 2004
Murshida Rabia Perez-Chisti
National Representative, Sufi Movement International of the USA
I am sitting up in the Berkeley hills looking over the Bay and taking in the expanded view of the East Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the cities of Oakland/Berkeley and San Francisco. One can see the clear beauty of a design, a city, made manifest by our intention, our efforts and our collective energies pooled together.
At this personal point in time and space the moment is peaceful and reflective. But knowing the cities as I do, looking at the beauty, I can also witness the despair in the human condition and the ecological needs pressing for solution on our generation. Within a nano-second of time, a collective view of our responsibilities arises and so many images rush onto the screen of the mind and heart. All together, in an almost unbearable infusion of Divine creative potential fused to human limitation, the flooding begins. Images of mystical absorption yet coupled to suffering and deluded expressions of our ignorance permeates the heart and one has to wonder about the ‘indefinable good’ and the inquiry necessary to truly understand the rising and ebbing emotions of these two extremes.
As I begin to note the arriving package of thought forms, I begin to sort and select what is most pressing to work on in these moments and remembrances of Pir-O-Murshid Inayat’s own beginning challenges as he brought the Message to the West began to arise. His challenges of the past and ours today connect in a familiar place in the heart particularly when we strive for solutions. The stories of his life recounted in his autobiography and the sacred tasks he had been called to take on in the New World with all its complexities echo similar feelings.
He says, “I found my work in the West the most difficult task that I could ever imagine. To work in the West for a spiritual cause to me was like traveling in a hilly land, not like sailing in the sea, which is smooth and level. In the first place I was not a missionary of a certain faith, delegated to the West by its adherents, nor was I sent to the West as a representative of an eastern cult by some Maharajah. I came to the West with His Message, Whose call I had received, and there was nothing earthly to back me in my mission, except my faith in God and trust in truth.”
The prejudice, the confined thinking patterns, the materialistic sociological values must have been a daunting mountain to climb for one whose cultural and religious foundation were developed through mysticism. We can begin to perceive by his experiences the great accomplishments and the magnitude of understanding that comes by Divine action working in the human heart. When we reflect on Murshid’s issues, even if we do not hear the solution at first, the amazing profession of his love is found in the fact that no matter how difficult he found his task he stayed with it. His effort was constant.
His action of embracing cultural barriers, examining them, and penetrating them calls us to take a look at how we are dealing with our own concepts that causes us aversion and makes us drop the ball. It is when we are most challenged, when we are at the bottom of our darkest moment that we are given a chance to lift up the Divine teachings by our effort to bear through the challenge and stick with it through our self inquiry.
There is a wonderful Buddhist story that reflects a manner of alertness and awareness we need when we face our moments of disconnection from that divine realization that Murshid Inayat held with such carefulness. This story was shared with the writer when studying with Thich Nhat Hanh as he extracted it from the Buddhist Sutra of the One Hundred Parables.
The Buddha tells the story of a young merchant and his son. The merchant, a widower, loved his son dearly, but lost him due to the lack of wisdom. One day, while the man was away, his little boy was kidnapped by a gang of bandits who razed the entire village before fleeing. When the young merchant returned home, he found the charred remains of a child near where his house had been, and in his suffering and confusion, mistook the charred remains of his own son. He cried unceasingly, arranged a cremation ceremony, and then carried the bag of ashes with him day and night, tied around his neck. A few months later, his little boy was able to escape from the bandits and find his way home. At midnight, he knocked on the door of his father’s house, but the father, thinking that some mischievous boy was ridiculing him, refused to open the door. The boy knocked and knocked, but the merchant clung to his view that his boy was dead, and eventually his son had to go away. This father who loved so much lost his son forever.
In this parable, we are taught, if we become attached to a view, even if truth comes to our house and knocks on our door, we will refuse to let it in. We can learn further from this little parable that if we inflexibly embrace a view and regard it as a fixed truth, the vital process of inquiry and awakening will end.
What keeps the inquiry alive is love-generating effort. As we connect this story to our personal doubts and fears we regard our Holy Murshid’s experiences in a new light and the question arises. Can we open ourselves to a greater exploration of our potential when all seems insurmountable? Murshid shows us an answer through the tasks he was given. He says, “So my task, compared with that of the spiritual teachers of the East, was quite different to theirs. Most part of my work was given to prepare the mind of mureeds for that ideal which is so little known in the West. It has been my lot, especially in the beginning of my work, that I had to build the whole building with unaccommodating vessels and broken tools. It was like playing on a piano, which is out of tune, and blowing upon the horns full of holes. Later things turned for the better. However, my loneliness was ever on the increase, and my only consolation was in the realization of the Divine Truth that, ‘I alone am the only existing being.’ ”
Even as Murshid saw the obstacles before him, his mind was not set as he opened himself to the creative principles operating through the Divine ideal, which he held as his rope of hope. He did not fight against it, he preserved the ideal and said so. We can take his example, with the obstacles clearly in front of him, and perceive his gift of awareness of the Divine source pouring into the limited personal complexity. Through non-aversion and effort we too can go to the door in the middle of the night and see who is knocking. We can open ourselves to those ‘Holy challenges’ and find their possibilities for new viewing as we face Holy Creation. Our Divine ideal can re-inform old impulses and love itself will be there gazing back at us in the form of spring-like, young impulses.
There is no new creativity without the challenge that empties the difficult material creations from our concepts. Concepts did not lure sublime beings, such as our Murshid Inayat, knowing the characteristics of each phenomenal aspect of our human condition into an entrapment. He was tested by them, and instead of defeatism tempting his view, he was moved by the infinite display of appearances without trying to catch anything or being able to be caught by them. He tells a story in the Sufi Volume text, Intoxication of Life, which indicates how he learned this.
I once had an experience in India which was my first impression, and a very deep impression indeed, of this aspect of life. When walking in a district where dervishes lived in solitude I found ten or twelve dervishes together, sitting under the shade of a tree in their ragged clothes, talking to one another. As I was curious to hear and see people of different thoughts and ideas, I stood there watching this assembly to see what was going on. These dervishes, sitting on the ground without a carpet, at first gave an impression of poverty and helplessness, sitting there in disappointment, probably entirely without possessions. But as they began to speak to each other that impression did not remain, for when they addressed one another they said, “O King of kings, O, Emperor of emperors.” At first I was taken aback on hearing these words, but after giving some thought to it I asked myself: What is an emperor, what is a king? Is the real king or emperor within or without? For he who is the emperor of the outer empire depends on all that is without. The moment he is separated from that environment he is no longer an emperor. But these emperors, sitting on the bare ground, were real emperors. No one could take away their empire, for their empire, their kingdom, was not an illusion, their kingdom was real kingdom. An emperor may have a bottle of wine in front of them but these emperor’s had drunk that wine and had become real emperors.
Murshid Inayat, having this realization brings a great remembrance to our hearts that could have otherwise become entrapped in dualistic notions of bliss and suffering. Embodying the great wisdom of the Dervish sitting together, one begins to cherish the salvific saying of Murshid Inayat’s:
My thoughts I have sown on the soil of your mind; My love has penetrated your heart; My word I have put into your mouth; My light has illuminated your whole being; My work I have given into your hands. (Vadan)
Moving and breathing into our potentiality, with the wine of this ideal now part of us, the personal challenges fade from dominant position to one of lesser import. We can observe the objects of mind that keep us temporarily frantic and numbed by excitation and amusements. We can become alert to those behaviors that cause us to shrink the sphere of our ideal to those areas in which we feel we can be in charge. We will then not react as experimental creatures in a laboratory as exemplified in a portion of Joanna Macy’s article. (Despair and Personal Power in the New Age).
When a threat is introduced to creatures in a laboratory, that they cannot dispel, they are observed to turn away and busy themselves in frenzied, irrelevant activities. So apparently do we. Seeking escape from the ‘unthinkable,’ our society turns increasingly to a desperate pursuit of pleasure and other short-term goals. The ‘new hedonism’ evident in the consumption of goods, sex, and entertainment — and the cult of the pursuit of money as an end in itself — are so striking today as to suggest that they derive from more than sheer appetite. The frantic quality to it all does not convey a healthy love for life so much as the contrary.
So, sitting on this rock today, in Murshid’s mystical presence, and grounded in Joanna’s clear, alert observation, I have no desire to numb the treasured experience of this precious moment and the Bay Area view where I now sit with these thoughts. May we have no desire to escape the “unthinkable.” By living our challenges and taking the frontal meeting with what comes knocking at our door as Maulana Jelauddin Rumi says, “Meet all that comes as a guest from beyond.” This is an act of personal love that meets our ideal with courage in our hearts and willing effort in our bodies. We then find the divine love everywhere, emptying us, filling us and connecting us to a world where, “Ragged and bare-footed, we approach the market and the streets. Even covered in dust, why would the laughter cease? The bees and butterflies are happy because flowers have bloomed on a withered tree.”