(Interactive session on 22.03.2014)
Keynote address by Mr. R. K. Gupta
(Other participant speakers: Mr. A. K. Sengupta, Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Dr.Santosh Ganguly, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Ramesh Chanda, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das, Mr. P. C. Jha, Mr.Jogendra Singh)
[Devotional song by Ms. Sikha Majumdar & Ms. Kavita Chanda]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha
Love and detachment in mundane sense are self-contradictory as love implies a sense of attachment while detachment suggests lack of it. Therefore, it is difficult to conceive that a person can be both a lover and yet detached at the same time in relation to another person. To be more precise, the question is if I love a person, can I be detached from that person.
In spiritual domain, detachment from material comforts, objects as also any living being is often mandated and prescribed with a view to enable the seeker to attain the Highest Truth viz. God-realization. The purpose underlying such mandate is to render the mind singularly devoted to or concentrated upon God. With that objective in view, it is customary to treat any attachment to mundane world as a distraction. True love, to protagonists of renunciation or detachment, is love for God only and nothing else.
In the above perspective, the question that logically arises is how God is to be defined. Definition surely means limitation and how do we define the Infinite. According to Abrahamic tradition, God as the Creator of universes is distinctive from His creation, and can be defined as Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent, the qualification that none else can possess. By this exclusive definition of God we suggest that God is Infinite, and none of us can become God. Thus when we say we love God, our love is meant to be directed to external God who is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. Obviously if we love God, we at the same time cannot be detached from God. Thus the concept of detached love appears to be self-contradictory and irreconcilable.
If it is suggested that the person who truly loves someone, be it God or human, would be naturally detached from everyone / everything else, it may amount to propagating selfish love, thereby belittling love’s all-encompassing positive effect. Christ’s dictum – “Love thy neighbour” or Mohammed’s teaching for brotherhood surely do not speak of detachment. How then love can be reconciled to detachment?
Hindu Vedantic tradition contrary to Abrahamic tradition, however, offers an inclusive definition of God (Brahman). More precisely, when Vedanta says ‘God is One,’ the suggestion is that there is no other existence except God (Ekamevadvitiyam). In that sense, all of us are God in reality (Sohaham or aham Brahmasmi) sans realization. That being the Truth, there is no difficulty in taking selfless love for a fellow human as divine. In other words, love per se is divine. The difficulty lies in simultaneously accepting the prescription for detachment. If we find divinity in everything that exists, why should we detach our mind from this mundane world and why should we make a distinction between spiritual and mundane worlds. Vedanta says that mundane world is transient, and anything that is transient is not real. Corollary to above premise in present context is that true love is not transient but ever-lasting. But, how can love become ever-lasting unless both the subject and the object are permanent? This problem of transient love can also be overcome by attributing divinity to the subject and the object, entangled in true love. But the problem still persists at the core. If everything that exists is divine, why should we detach ourselves from it? Our subject today is all about this perplexing question, with specific reference to Sufism.
Love – the force of attraction
Love is the most fundamental force with the characteristic quality of attraction existing in all living and non-living beings. While the love in the gross matter manifests as the gravitational force and is governed by the Law of Gravity, in the living beings love manifests in various forms. Today’s topic, however, relates to love in spiritual sense i.e., the love of a devotee for the Divine. This force of love keeps on constantly exerting its pressure on things to move towards and merge with the beloved. The gross matter is continuously attracted towards other material bodies be it the tiniest particles or the celestial bodies and the soul inherently urges to merge with the Supreme Soul. Big or small, living or non-living, this fundamental force of love exists universally.
This force of love would have had its way and everything would have merged with the Origin, the Creator, if there were no movement. The universe would have collapsed because of the gravitational force if the tiny particles and the celestial bodies were not revolving in their orbits. Similarly the soul also would have merged with the Supreme Soul, if it were not for the fulfillment of Almighty’s desire that the soul through movement should gain experience, feel the pain and sufferings of others, acquire compassion and thereby shed the feeling of separate existence (ego) and ultimately realise the Truth of the unity of existence. The universe exists because of His desire; it is His ‘leela’ (the divine play) in which every living creature is rejoicing, oblivious of the true nature of things and the real purpose of life. It is only a few to whom He reveals the secret of His love and takes them to their Original State of Love.
Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji, a great Sufi saint (1900-1960) has said, ‘love is quenching the thirst on the physical plane, but thirst is not love. The human being is love, and Love loves the human being. To realize Love is to realize the God. If one sits before the open fire, it warms him. There is no effort on his part. Those who have realized the Truth are like this fire and their company ignites the warmth of love in the hearts of seekers. God realized Himself in the heart of Hearts of the human being. It is like the ocean and waves; they disappear and are here. When we realize, Love disappears. We cannot give shape or name to Love. The deeper one goes, the more it disappears. It radiates from every part of the body.’
The desire to become perfect
Love can be expressed as the desire to become perfect, to remove all imperfection. This is true of the love at the physical plane as well as at the spiritual plane. At the physical plane, eyes love to see a beautiful thing, ears love to listen melodious songs, nose loves to smell flowers and so on. It is this lacking in the sensual perceptions, which is desired to be fulfilled and is called love for that thing.
At the spiritual plane, one desires to remove imperfection of one’s conduct. The love for the saints of God is explained because of their perfection in conduct and, therefore, people are attracted towards them. The love for God is also explained similarly, God being the most Perfect. He has created the universe and He runs it perfectly. One, who does not understand it, lives in the world with anguish, pain, suffering and sorrow; he lives miserably. One, who has this knowledge, also lives like an ordinary person in the world, but he lives with the understanding that the world has been created by the God, the Lord of the universe, who is running it perfectly. This understanding makes him live happily in the world in accordance with His desire and it results in love for God, reflecting in universal love.
Love for God
All the religions lay stress on love for God, but it is difficult to understand what is really meant by love for God. For most religions the love for God is expressed in obedience and worship. The true nature of love, however, needs to be understood. One loves oneself the most; it is a fact of life experienced by everyone some time or the other. One loves oneself the most because of his identification with one’s own self. If one loves somebody else, it is because of the reason that he starts identifying himself with that other person. For example, the mother loves her child because she identifies herself with the child, so much so that she feels the child as a part of her own existence. On the contrary, the child has no identity of its own, for its ego has not yet grown; the child knows nothing except the mother, being completely dependent on her, which explains its love for the mother. As they both grow, the child starts acquiring his own individuality and the mother also starts recognizing child’s independent existence. The degree of love starts getting affected.
When one talks of love for God this sequence is reversed. One could consider God as the mother of all mothers and the seeker as the child, who has to traverse the path from a state of grown up ego to the state of complete dependence on God i.e. surrender unto Him. With the complete surrender of the ego one acquires the spiritual knowledge that his essence is the essence of God i.e. the duality starts disappearing and one starts realizing that his reality is nothing but the Reflection of God. With this realization one reaches the state of Unity i.e. the state of Oneness. In this state there is no difference between the love, faith and enlightenment. This is the true knowledge. When this realization dawns one’s self exists no more.
Love for the spiritual Master
The love for God has, therefore, to be understood as the complete Unity with the God. But then the God is Absolute and for most people it is difficult to surrender, to love something so abstract. Most people, therefore, need the help of a spiritual Master. The Master has a physical body and is like them. The disciple can perceive Master’s existence through his own senses. It is easy for him to surrender his ego at the feet of his Master. The love for the Master gradually leads the disciple to the realization that there is no duality between the Master and the God. The face of the Master is only a mask behind which lies the Reality.
One can consider the Master like the river that is continuously flowing towards and merging with the ocean. At the point of merger there is no difference between the river and the ocean. On merger with the ocean the river loses its identity, its independent existence. It becomes one with the ocean. The disciples who are like small watercourses by merging themselves with this river i.e. the Master can reach the ocean i.e. the God. On their own it is not only difficult but almost impossible for the small watercourses to travel through all this distance without the fear of being lost on the way. Their merger with the river paves the way for them to merge with the ocean. This is the easiest and the nearest path for the seekers to reach their destination. It is for this reason that the Sufis lay stress on the love for their Master.
The great Sufi Master Bayazid (8th Century AD) also said that ‘love for the friends of Allah results in their love for you. The Almighty looks at the hearts of His saints and if He will see your name engraved in their hearts, He will forgive you.’ It is for this reason that the Sufis love their Master the most. Their love for the Master lifts them to a state of bliss and presence in the heart of their beloved. Muhammad az-Zahid, a great Naqshbandi Sufi Master narrated an incidence concerning his Master Sheikh Ubaidullah al-Ahrar. Once his Sheikh fell sick and asked him to get a doctor from Herat. One of his co-disciples Maulana Qassim requested him to fetch the doctor fast, as he could not withstand the suffering of his Sheikh. It took him thirty-five days to return with a doctor. On return, however, he found that his Sheikh was well and Maulana Qassim had died. He asked his Sheikh about the sudden demise of Maulana Qassim, who was so young. Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said, ‘When you left, Maulana Qassim came to me and said, ‘I am giving my life for your life.’ I asked him not to do that but he said, ‘O My Sheikh! I didn’t come here to consult you. I have made the decision and Allah has accepted it from me.’ Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said that he couldn’t change his mind. The next day he became sick with the ailment of his Master, which was reflected on him. He died and Ubaidullah al-Ahrar got well without the help of a doctor.
Love for all creatures
In unity with the God what exists is only the Reality of the God and one sees the existence of the God alone in all beings. His love takes the form of Divine love for all beings. The love for God does not mean hatred towards the world; rather it results in the understanding that the others need to be treated in the same manner as one would himself like to be treated. One cannot be saying that he loves God by neglecting his duty towards the others. The mother cannot be justified in neglecting her child for the sake of performing her pooja and similarly a king cannot be said to love God if he spends all his time in worship and refuses to protect his people from the enemy. The real love for God is to do one’s duty with utmost care and attention, while at the same time remaining in His Presence i.e. taking it to be a Divine order to discharge his obligations most faithfully.
Supremacy of love
The great Sufi Master Bayazid established supremacy of love by saying that ‘the Almighty can be approached only through love.’ The love for the beloved reveals his secrets in the heart of the lover and conversely the knowledge of the beloved produces in his heart the love for the beloved. The knowledge of the true beloved i.e. the God is a source of tremendous happiness. As in the case of worldly knowledge, the more complicated an issue is, the more pleasure one gets in understanding and resolving it. Similarly in the spiritual world, the knowledge of the God being the highest, one, who seeks to acquire His knowledge moves on the path of bliss.
In regard to supremacy of love, the great Sufi Master Mahatma Ramchandraji (1873-1931) has also said that ‘love is such a thing which crosses the limits of the Seven Skies.’ His disciple Thakur Ram Singhji (1898-1971) also used to say, ‘Love is all encompassing. The Almighty can be realized only through love. The illiterate Gopis had won the love of Lord Sri Krishna only through their unfettered love.’ The true love brings in enlightenment. In fact there is no difference between Love and Enlightenment. Love is God and the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to know the God. Love is the culmination of knowledge and it is the height of enlightenment.
Ekatmata, faith and surrender
The true meaning of love thus is ‘ekatmata’ (oneness) i.e. complete merger with the beloved and cessation of the duality. There is no scope in love for the separate existence of the lover and the beloved. As soon as the feeling of duality between the Master and the disciple vanishes, one starts seeing His manifestation everywhere in the entire universe. Selfless love gradually turns into devotion, which makes one identical to one’s beloved. The disciple (the lover), however, is imperfect, and, therefore, it is the Master (the beloved), who being perfect, merges with the disciple and takes him on the path of love. We have references in the mystic literature:
‘Jab mein tha tab Hari nahi, abHari hai mein nay
Prem gali ati saankri, ya mein do na samay’
(Till I existed, God was not there. Now only He exists and I am not there. The path of love is so narrow that it has no place for the two.)
In the satsang (spiritual assemblies) of Hajrat Baqi Billah (16th Century AD), a renowned Sufi Sheikh (Delhi), Masters of other Silsila (Sufi Orders) together with their followers also used to participate. Once when all of them were engrossed in deep meditation, all of a sudden Hajrat Baqi Billah stood up. His body was trembling and it appeared that he might fall. One of the persons got up and gave him support. After a little while when he was somewhat composed, one of the Masters present in the assembly very politely enquired ‘Hajrat Qiblah (your honour) – what blessing have you received from the Almighty today that you are prepared even to sacrifice your life for it.’ Hajrat Baqi Billah replied, ‘Brother, what can I say. When all were deeply engrossed in remembering the Almighty, my eyes opened for a while. I saw a dog passing in front of the door. This dog resembled the one, which used to visit the abode of this slave’s Master. My Master used to feed the dog with the food left over from his own dish. This slave used to feel jealous of that dog and used to think that dog to be more fortunate than him. Seeing this dog, I was reminded of my Master and that dog and I was overpowered by the flux of love. I, therefore, could not control myself.’ On listening to this explanation, the Master who had asked this question himself got into such a state of ecstasy that he remarked, ‘Hajrat Khwaja Sahab, only you can be a Sheikh (Master).’ He then loudly uttered ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ and abandoned his life in that state of ecstasy.
The essence of love lies in complete faith and surrender to the beloved. Rabia of Basra, the first and the most famous of the women Sufi saints, followed the path of tawakkul i.e. complete dependence on God. When asked if she loved Prophet Muhammad, she is stated to have said that the love for God in her heart has left no room for anything else. She struck down the Ayat relating to hatred towards Saitan from the Holy Qur’an, since there was no place left for any hatred in her heart. She also regarded all rituals as meaningless, including visitation to Kaaba. One of her greatest contributions to Sufism was her conception of prayer, which she considered as a free and intimate supplication to God.
Hazrat Rabia was born in a poor family. She became orphan at a very young age. Her family was scattered by a famine and she was sold as a slave for a sum of only six Dirhams. Her master had put her on to the job of looking after the household affairs, which kept her busy throughout the day. She performed her duties with utmost sincerity and in the night when she retired to her room, she used to engage in offering prayers to her Lord. One night her master happened to see her absorbed in prayers through a window of his house. He saw Rabia grossly engrossed in prayer and a beam of divine light engulfing her. Deeply impressed by it and a little bit frightened, her master set her free the next morning. Rabia then devoted herself to the love of God, living a life of extreme poverty.
Prayer for Rabia was a free and intimate communion with the God. For her the ritual of offering the prescribed prayers (Namaz) and other religious observances were of no merit. The true prayer for her was to be in the presence of God. She did not offer prayer in expectation of any reward or for avoiding punishment. She used to pray: ‘O my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in the Hell, and if I worship You with the hope of paradise, exclude me from it; but if I worship You for Your own sake then withhold not from me Your Eternal Beauty.’
Rabia’s dependence on God was complete. She is considered to be a great exponent of complete trust (tawakkul) in God. She refused to accept any assistance or help from any one. She considered it to be a shame to ask for worldly things from the God to whom this world belongs. There was, therefore, no question for her to ask for anything from them to whom it did not belong. She had the firm faith that how He, who provides for those who envy him, could be expected not to take care of those who love Him? He does not refuse sustenance to one who abuses Him. How then shall He refuse sustenance to one whose heart is overflowing with Love for Him? She had, therefore, turned her attention completely away from the world. Rabia also did not allow people to visit her as she considered that they might relate to her what she did not say or do. She did not approve of any miracles to be related to her. People used to say that she finds money at her place of worship and that she cooks her food without fire and so on. She, however, refuted all such attributions made to her and said that she felt happy in living in the condition in which the Almighty kept her. Thus her existence itself had become a living prayer to the Almighty.
Love knows no barriers
The story of Sheikh Sanan in the book Mantiqu’t Tayr (Conference of Birds) written by the great Sufi Master Fariduddin Attar, of whom Maulana Rumi said; ‘Attar traversed the seven worlds of Love while we are standing only at the corner of one street’, reflects the idea of the supremacy of love in a very touching manner.
Sheikh Sanan had devoted his life to serving God and His creation. He had four hundred faithful disciples living with him. One night, Sanan had a dream in which he saw himself bowing to an idol in the city of Rum. He ignored the dream initially but when it recurred, he decided to visit Rum. His disciples also insisted on accompanying him. All of them left for Rum and after some days they arrived at the outskirts of Rum, near a temple. At the temple Sheikh Sanan heard a heart-touching female voice singing a sad love song. On following the voice, Sheikh Sanan saw a young beautiful Christian girl singing that sad song. Her charming beauty overpowered Sheikh Sanan’s heart. In a moment his heart slipped away from his hands. He was dumbfounded and felt as if he had no existence of his own left any more. He could stand on his feet no longer. He sat down with tremors rocking his body. The fire of love made him forget all about himself.
The fire of love incapacitated Sheikh Sanan so much that he forgot that he was a Sheikh of so many disciples, who were witnessing his strange condition. Nothing was important to him anymore except seeing the face of that young girl again. The young girl had left the temple without noticing the Sheikh but Sheikh Sanan decided to stay there through the night in the hope of seeing her again the next morning. His disciples tried to persuade him to go to the city with them but it was of no avail. The pain of love was growing stronger and stronger in Sanan’s heart. He was crying in this agony. His disciples were confused, unable to understand how their Sheikh could behave like that.
Sheikh Sanan was possessed by the love for the Christian girl. Nothing existed for him except his beloved. The next day came and then the night, the Sheikh could not have a glimpse of the girl again. He became exceedingly restless. His disciples tried to take him out of this obsession. They asked him to perform ablution for clearing his soul, offer prayers (Namaz), and to repent for his sin. The Sheikh answered that they knew nothing of his condition and that he had done his ablution with the blood of his heart for his beloved. He was repentant not of his love but of his Sheikhood. He regretted that he did not fall in love earlier and said that his prayer now was only for her.
Not understanding what their Sheikh had said the disciples requested him to forget everything that had happened and to go back with them to Mecca and its Kaaba. Sanan replied that his Mecca now was that temple where he found his love and its Kaaba was his beloved, the Christian girl. His disciples asked him whether he had no shame uttering these words and what face would he show to the God? The Sheikh replied, ‘The God himself has made me to fall in love. How can I act against His will?’
The helpless disciples left their Sheikh at the temple in the hope that time will heal the heart of their Sheikh and they found a nearby place for themselves. They thought that perhaps their Master might change his mind and return back to Mecca with them. Days passed in waiting both for the Sheikh and the disciples. Sanan started living on the path opposite the temple from where he could see the girl crossing him in the hope that one day she would notice him. He started addressing her with an imaginary name in his poetry, which he started composing as a result of pain of love in his heart and he would sing the same in sad melodies.
At last, one day the girl noticed him and asked him why he was living there on a street, without home, in the company of dogs. Sanan replied that he had fallen in love with her and would stay there until she responded. The girl was astonished looking to his old age enough to be her grandfather and asked him retortingly whether he was not ashamed of himself to fall in love with a young girl.
Sheikh Sanan was unperturbed. He replied eloquently that love knows no age. Whether young or old, love pierces the heart of the lover the same way. Not knowing what to say, the girl asked him to abandon his Shakhhood, convert to Christianity, drink wine and renounce his faith in his holy book and all obligations hereunder to be eligible to deserve her favour.
For Sanan, his only faith was his love. He did what the girl had demanded of him gladly. He sang and danced with rejoice proclaiming that he had become nothing for love; he had lost his honour in love and asked the young girl what more he could do for her? She was more than amused. She asked him to buy her gold and ornaments and if he had no money, not to waste his time on her. The Sheikh replied that he had nothing left with him except his heart that too he had already given away to her. He could not live in separation and would do anything she desired of him. The girl put her condition to be his wife that he should look after her pigs for one year. If he tends the pigs to her satisfaction, she would be ready to become his wife on completion of one year. The Sheikh gladly accepted her wish and took up his residence in the pigsty and started tending the pigs with love and care.
Sheikh Sanan’s disciples were utterly disappointed. Their faith in their Sheikh was completely shattered and their hearts were broken. They were confused and they did not know what should they do now? Should they stay in Rum or should they return to Mecca. They asked Sheikh Sanan what should they do? Did he want them also to convert to Christianity as well? They will stay with him, if he asked them to do so. Sheikh Sanan, however, told them to do whatever they wanted and that he wanted nothing from them. If any one asked them about him, they should tell the truth.
The disciples returned to Mecca. They had no courage to tell anything about their Sheikh to anyone. However, one of their colleagues who could not go to Rum, being on journey, on return to Mecca and not seeing their Master, asked his colleagues about him. They told him the entire story from the beginning to the end.
On listening to what had transpired, he asked his colleagues how dare they judge their Sheikh as having done something wrong? He cried for his Sheikh from the depth of his heart. He told his colleagues that they did not know the etiquettes of the path of love. If they truly loved their Sheikh, they should have remained with him and followed him. If the Sheikh had torn off his Sufi robe and put on a cincture, they should have done the same. They should have stayed with him in the pigsty. He said this is what the true love demands.
This faithful disciple remembered and cried inconsolably for his Sheikh day and night. On the fortieth day he had a vision. He saw his Master Sheikh Sanan standing in the presence of God with a dark cloud of dust from the temple hanging between Sheikh Sanan and God. Suddenly, the dust blew off and the Divine Light embraced the Sheikh. Then he heard an eternal voice saying: ‘When the fire of Love burns one of all his possessions, only then he becomes worthy of seeing the Eternal Beloved. Nothing has any value in the creed of Love except the selfless love. Until the mirror of the soul is cleared of the dust of existence one cannot see the reflection of the True Beloved in it.’
When he told of his vision to his colleagues, all of them decided to proceed to Rum, where they found their Sheikh with his forehead on the ground in salutation to the God. Sheikh Sanan had travelled beyond religion and was liberated from all bondage. He had truly become nothing in the love of his True Beloved. The Sheikh had become one with his true Beloved. He was silent but filled with bliss. The disciples gathered around him and all of them started back for Mecca.
Meanwhile, the young girl also had a dream. She saw a glimpse of the Almighty in her dream. She had realised that it was He who was the true Lover. It aroused an intense desire in her heart to be united with that Eternal Beauty. The pain of love and separation had also captured her heart. It was now revealed to her that it was only the Sheikh, who could show her the way to the Eternal Beloved.
She rushed to meet the Sheikh and on learning that he had left for Mecca, ran into the desert in order to catch up with the Master. The pain of love had melted her heart, which was pouring down in the form of tears from her eyes. For days together she ran barefooted in the desert, calling to her Master with love and devotion. The fire of love had reduced everything in her to ashes leaving nothing behind.
Sheikh Sanan had known in his heart that she was running in the desert to see him. He sent his disciples to look for her. On seeing the great Master, the young woman threw herself at his feet. Holding his feet firmly, she said, ‘My Master, I am burning with love. I am dying to see my Beloved, who has disappeared after showing a glimpse and arousing this fire of love in my heart. I cannot see Him anymore. Help me to see my Beloved again.’ The Sheikh took her hands gently and looked into her eyes deeply as if he was peeping into her soul, conducting it to her Beloved through his own soul. The young girl met her destiny. She screamed, ‘O Beloved, I cannot bear Your separation any more’ and with these words she united with her Beloved leaving her mortal remains behind.
Sheikh Sanan stood still for a while and then said, ‘They are fortunate, who reach their destiny and meet with their Beloved. They live eternally in union with Him.’ He then paused for a moment and added, ‘But those who are left behind to guide others to their goal must sacrifice their bliss of communion for the sake of His pleasure!’
A disciple on whom this secret is revealed that the God loves his Master is definitely the recipient of God’s grace. A story is related. A King had ten wives who wanted to know whom did the King love the most. They asked the King. The King showed them a ring and said that next day, whoever of them has the ring, is his most beloved wife. In the night the King got ten similar rings made and sent one each to each of his wives. Now, if someone else other than the wives of the King knows this secret definitely he is the dearest to the King. So is the disciple to whom it is revealed that the God loves his Master.
Love of God is given to all since it is He who has given birth to all. Existence itself is the manifestation of His love. The Sufis consider human beings to have the highest place in His creation. But the perfection of human beings lies in becoming a ‘complete man’ (Insanu’l–kamil). The Qualities and Attributes of the Almighty reflect prominently in a complete man. All creatures endeavor to evolve as complete man, as one could realize the Supreme Being only after that. The journey of all creatures started from the Supreme Being and will end with reaching back to Him. The period spent in the process is the ‘period of being’ (Dauran–e–Wajood). It is, therefore, not possible that His highest creation, the man is devoid of love. This love, however, does not surface till the heart is cleaned and it reflects that love like a mirror reflects the light of the sun.
Initially the Sufi wayfarers considered it necessary to live a life of ascetics and hermits, with immense fear of God. They, therefore, spent their time in meditation and in the remembrance of God to overcome their ego. Gradually, however, they realized that ego could be sacrificed only through love. Without love one cannot stand firmly for long. History is full of such examples where ascetics have fallen to their ego. Famous Sufi Jami has said, ‘you can adopt any method to shelve your ego but love is the only way which definitely protects you from ego.’ Sufis believe that Love is God. It is the gift of the God. It cannot be learnt from the human beings. It can be acquired only through His grace. For the Sufis love is the only way to realize the God. They consider the entire creation to be His manifestation and, therefore, unless one has love for all the creatures, one cannot claim true love for God. Someone has said, ‘there can be as many ways to realize the God as are there the number of atoms. But the simplest and the fastest way to realize Him is to serve His creation.’ Thus, the Sufi, on the one hand endeavors to clear his inner-self, and on the other he renders selfless service and derives happiness in comforting others.
Sufis consider Uns (selfless love) for God as the shortest way to reach Him. The mother loves her son with no self-interest; she does not look at his vices or his goodness, nor does she live on any hopes from him. Even if she has any expectations, which are belied, her love for the son does not become any less. It is possible that at times the mother may get annoyed with the son but it does not mean that her heart would not melt seeing him in any difficulty. If one loves God in the same manner then there is no veil left in between. The only veil is that of self-interest, if that is not there, all the distance is travelled and one reaches his destiny immediately. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has stated in his book ‘Mazhab Aur Tahqiqat’ on the basis of his personal experience that there have been such great persons, who in their lives never engaged themselves in any spiritual practices, no jikr, no meditation, no contemplation, no worry about crossing spiritual stages, no desire of achieving salvation, peace or any such thing nor even to realize the Truth, but because of their intense love for their Master in their hearts and following his order to the hilt without caring for the result or their own interest in it, they have become one with their Master. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has further stated that he would not have believed it if in his own case his experience was not something similar. He, however, has cautioned against exhibition of superficial love to cover up for ones lethargy, which would lead him nowhere.
Prophet Muhammad was asked once to which religion did he belong and it is said that Jesus Christ was also asked the same question. The fact is that all saints, all prophets belong to the same Religion, the Religion of the Lovers of God.
Adab in love
It is also important to mention that Sufis attach a lot of importance on proper ‘Adab’ (respect or etiquettes), particularly till the duality does not cease to exist, as reflected in this couplet:
“Khamosh a dil bhari mahfil me chillana nahi achcha,
Adab pahla karina hai mohabbat ke karino me”
(Be quite o! my heart, it is not proper to cry in the presence of others; for the lovers observing proper etiquettes is the first necessity)
(The story of Bulleh Shah and Hazrat Inayat Shah is related)
Of course when this feeling of duality ceases to exist, there remains no veil between the lover and the beloved. We have known the examples of the great saints like Andal Rangnayaki (who used to wear the garland herself before offering it to the Lord), Shabri (who tasted the berries before offering to Lord Ram) and Vidur’s wife (who forgot to cover herself and ran to receive Lord Krishna, Who threw His shawl to cover her up). Till such a state of mind is achieved it is important to observe proper etiquettes.
It may thus be said that the root of love lies in duality but it flourishes and blooms in unity or absorption in the beloved.
Detachment – a state of mind
As regards detachment, ordinarily detachment is taken to mean no attachment with anything or anyone. For Sufis, however, detachment is a state of universal attachment, where one acquires the state of love for all, nothing pulling him towards any particular thing or being. In fact attachment exists when one is pulled particularly towards something or someone. When there is no special attachment and one acquires the state of universal attachment, it could be said to be the state of real detachment. Detachment for Sufis does not mean being unconcerned or unmoved. Sufis consider detachment as the state of ‘Istagna’ i.e., a state of such affluence, such abundance that one completely becomes oblivious of that thing. For example, if one acquires multitude of money, would one be mindful of losing or acquiring a few coins? He would be in the real state of detachment from money.
Thakur Ram Singhji in this regard used to say that the true detachment is a state of mind. It is not the renunciation of the world. Whether one lives in one’s home or in the jungle, the real objective is self-realization. When all the faculties are diverted towards the Almighty, the true feeling of detachment also develops. If, however, something, live or material, induces a reaction, one may either try to detach himself from that thing or the easier method of achieving the objective is seeing the reflection of the Almighty in that thing. In this context, Thakur Ram Singhji used to narrate a story:
Once a King got attracted towards a beautiful girl. He insisted upon meeting with her. The girl asked the King to see her after a week. When the King reached her house after a week, what he saw was that the girl had become very weak and her beauty had lost the charm. The King enquired what had happened to her and how had she lost her charm. The girl indicated the King to go to the next room. The King went to the next room, but could not enter it, as the room smelled badly with human excreta filled in pots. When the King tried to cover his nose and mouth, a maid standing nearby asked him “why are you condemning the very thing which you wanted. The beauty of the body is only on the outside. Inside the body, it was this excretion only but as the body is covered with the skin, it neither smells nor does it attract flies.” The King was shaken completely. He understood the message and developed a feeling of detachment. Through this story Thakur Ram Singhji used to explain that the King neither renounced his Kingdom, nor did he withdraw from his duty but what he renounced was his ill thoughts and his attachment with the girl.
Everything belongs to God
In simple words garnering a firm belief that everything belongs to the God is true detachment in the real sense. The story related to Shams Tabrez, the spiritual Master of Maulana Rumi is related. Once Mahatma Shams Tabrez was passing through a place where a young boy had died and his mother was crying inconsolably. Some people who knew Mahatma Shams Tabrez spotted him and requested him to give life to the dead body. Seeing the pathetic condition of the mother, Mahatma Shams Tabrez ’s heart got filled with compassion. He asked the dead body “Kum-be-Ijnillah” (get up by the order of the Almighty), but the dead body did not respond. Mahatma Shams Tabrez then kicked the dead body ordering him “Kum-be-Ijni” i.e. if you do not get up by the order of the Almighty, get up by my order. The dead body immediately got up. This matter reached the ears of the Emperor of Multan who held Mahatma Shams Tabrez to be a Kafir and ordered his skin to be peeled off. The Emperor’s servants were afraid of Mahatma Shams Tabrez and could not dare touch him. Seeing their condition Mahatma Shams Tabrez himself caught hold of his skin by the hair on the head and ordered his skin to leave his body. The skin of his body from toe to head came into his hand which he handed over to them and went away.
On hearing this incidence another Fakir came to Multan and asked a goldsmith to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty. On being asked by the goldsmith he showed his own finger for the measurement. The goldsmith was stunned. He told the Fakir that a few days ago another ‘God’ has lost his skin and now it is you who want to lose life by showing your finger as the finger of the God. The Fakir, however, started shouting more loudly as he had deliberately entered into this discussion. Listening to this dialogue many people gathered there and the Emperor also was informed of this new incidence. The Emperor called the Fakir and told him “look, I am prepared to give to you whatever you want, but do not utter these words like a Kafir.” The Fakir told the Emperor that before asking for anything he wanted some of his questions to be answered by the Emperor. The Emperor agreed to answer him. The Fakir asked the Emperor, what are those things which the Emperor was authorised to give him.
Emperor: All the land, treasure, animals, servants, army, the palace etc. everything is mine, which I can give to you.
Fakir: Who owned all these things before you were born.
Emperor: These were owned by my father and prior to him by my grandfather and so on.
Fakir: When these were with your father, he would also be claiming them to be his and similarly your grandfather must also be claiming them to his.
Emperor: Yes. They must be claiming so and after me my son or who-so-over will be the Emperor will claim them to be belonging to him.
Fakir: Then think over and tell me from where have these things originated and where shall these end.
Emperor: What is there to think about? All the things, the entire world has originated from the Almighty and these shall end also in the Almighty. I am fully convinced of it and this is also, the truth.
Fakir: Ok, then be alert and be firm on your words. If what you have said is true, then whose skin was it which was peeled off and whose finger is this for which I was asking the goldsmith to make a ring?
The Emperor was speechless. He bowed his head down and started thinking. If he admitted that the skin belonged to the Almighty, he will be charged of the offence of getting the skin belonging to the Almighty peeled off. Besides, the claim of the Fakir to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty also was right as everything belonged to the Almighty. The Emperor fell at the feet of the Fakir begging him to be pardoned. He requested the Fakir to explain him the difference between a devotee and a Kafir. The Fakir explained that a Kafir claims everything to be his own or belonging to others, forgetting the Almighty; whereas a devotee takes everything to be belonging to the Almighty and acts accordingly. The Emperor had understood his mistake.
Renunciation- subtle ego
Renunciation also involves exercising subtle ego. Shams Tabrez used to roam about bare headed. On being asked why his head was not covered, Shams Tabrez is stated to have said:
“Sar barhana, nestam daram, kulhi char tark’
Tark-e-duniya, tark-e-ukva, tark-e-Maula, tark-e-tark”
(This means – my head is covered with four crowns. First, renunciation of the world (tark-e- duniya); second, renunciation of the heaven (tark-e-ukwa); third, renunciation of the God (tark-e-Maula); and fourth, renunciation of the will power (tark-e-tark) through which the first three renunciations were made).
In regard to ‘renunciation of the God’, Thakur Ram Singh ji explained that ‘tark-e-Maula’ does not mean to forget the God or to be an atheist. It really means to stop searching for the Almighty since the Almighty always lives in the heart of the devotee and is so close that it is difficult to differentiate between ‘Him’ and oneself. When one experiences that he and the Almighty are one and the same, then what is left to be searched? Who is to be searched? The desire to find ‘Him’ then vanishes. By ‘tark-e-tark’ one should understand renunciation even of the sense of renouncing. Such a person is the greatest and an absolutely contended person.
My Master Thakur Ram Singhji also used to say:
“Jab se miti hai chahat, fulon ko sunghane ki,
Sare jahan ke gulshan, mere hi ho gaye’
(Ever since I have given up the desire to smell the flowers, all the gardens of the world have become mine)
No conflict between love and detachment
Thus, there is no conflict between love and detachment. A true lover loves the Almighty and, therefore, the entire creation, no space left in his heart for hatred towards anyone. Similarly, one who is truly detached considers everything belonging to the God and, therefore, sheds the feeling of ‘me and mine, you and yours’, which is the root- cause of all evils and hatred.
The questions we raised in Introduction regarding compatibility of love with detachment stand resolved. There is indeed no conflict between the two when we construe true love as self-effacing and non-possessive. It is this self-effacement and non-possessiveness that makes the lover detached, even from self, and unites the lover with the beloved in spirit. Bhakti (devotion) movement of Sri Chaitanya in 15th century epitomized this selfless and detached love for the divine (Sri Krishna). When the mind gets fully absorbed with the thought of the beloved, even to the exclusion of self, the love gets transformed into detached love. We need not get into the debate whether mundane love can become selfless or divine. Suffice it to say, love is mundane when it is self-centric, and divine when it is selfless. Obviously when love is selfless, the question of possessing the beloved as one’s own does not arise. When self is effaced, sense of attachment disappears and the perfect unity between the lover and the beloved is established.
An anecdote of how passionate love of a queen of Magadha, named Ahalya, wife of king Indradyumna, for an ordinary subject called Indra, transcended physical limits and pains has been depicted in yoga Vasishtha by sage Vasishtha to Rama. When their love was exposed, the king punished them severely in various ways, first by throwing them into ice-cold water in winter, then into a large frying pan, under the feet of an elephant, and lastly lashing them with rods, straps and hammers. But each time they came out smiling as if in blissful merriment. When asked to explain how they survived such punishments, this is how they explained the phenomenon:
“O King, no torture can separate us. The world is full with the form of the other. We view the whole world as full of ourselves. We see our beloved in every shape and form. We are in the enjoyment of bliss and so we are entirely unconscious of our body. We do not experience any pain. We will not feel the slightest pain even if the body is cut to pieces. When the mind is intensely attached to an object, it will not experience any pain. No power on earth will be able to divert this mind from its beloved object. All these bodies originate from the mind only. Mind does everything. It is the highest body. Even if this body perishes, the mind will take fresh bodies quickly according to its liking. If this mind is destroyed beyond resurrection through Atma Jnana (wisdom of soul), then only will bodies stop cropping up.”
The king realised the truth of their statement and banished them from his kingdom so that they might live together elsewhere. Sage Vasishtha concluded his story with following annotation:
“The body with various organs is no other than the mind. This universe also is nothing but the mind. If the mind perishes, both body and the universe will vanish.” [The above anecdote is taken from ‘Stories from Yoga Vasishtha’ by Swami Sivananda]
The above anecdote from Yoga Vasishtha helps us in understanding how in all-absorbing love two souls transcend physical barriers and sensation, and become one, and why Mansoor Al-Hallaj, a great Sufi saint, did not exhibit any sign of pain when he was executed by the orthodoxy in the gallows for blasphemy for shouting Anal Haq (I am the Truth). Mansoor Al-Hallaj was no exception. Several Sufi saints even to this date have been and are being persecuted by the orthodoxy for their all-encompassing love for humanity and divine ecstasy, often misunderstood and mis-construed as blasphemy.
Absorption in love with the beloved is not a unique Sufi concept. Nor is the concept of detachment or of detached love peculiar to Sufism. On a spiritual plane, these concepts were well known to all ancient religions. Bhagavad Gita, in verse 10, chapter 5, compares a detached mind with a lotus leaf. Just as a lotus leaf does not get wet even while immersed in water, a detached mind does not get affected even while engaged in action. At the same time, in verse 32, chapter 6 of Gita Sri Krishna pronounces to Arjuna as follows:
Atma-aupamyena sarvatra samam pashyati yah Arjuna I
Sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramah matah II
[O Arjuna, that Yogi is the greatest who identifies self with others in their grief or pleasure]
Uniqueness of Sufism lies in their pursuit of love to attain the Truth. It is not a religion in a normative or ritualistic sense. Even though some well known Sufi saints have engaged in converting their followers to Islam, Sufi philosophy in general does not believe in conversion or discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, race, caste or creed while pursuing the path of love for uniting with the Divine.