Sunday, September 29, 2013

What is Love?

What is love?

Rumi said, “The tale of love must be heard from love itself, for, like the mirror, it is both mute and expressive.”

I once spoke to Meher Baba while sitting in His tomb—His Samadhi—in India. I said that I knew nothing about love, that if love was all that mattered to Him, then He would have to show me—give me—that love, because, on my own, left to myself only, I could never even approach the door to love. That conversation took place thirty-four years ago…

Men and women know lust—they call it love.
Men and women know attachment—they call it love.
Men and woman know identification—they call it love.

And maybe, at some level, at the level that the spider kills the moth, it is love—or maybe some distant shadow of love, for love alone prevails, and love alone is…

It was a night many years ago; I was sitting at a little desk in my cabin at the Meher Spiritual Center. I think I was reading the Discourses of Rumi, when from the window behind the desk I came distracted by sounds and movements inside the screen.

A moth had become ensnared in a spider’s web. Soon a large spider fell upon the moth. I watched as the spider stung again and again, the moth shuddering and thrashing with every sting.

The attack went on for some time, until the moth stopped struggling. The spider, looking exhausted, also became still, its legs wrapped around the moth, embracing the moth in a lover’s embrace.

Yes, I saw it as love. The spider loved the moth. The moth was a victim of that love. “That is love,” I thought, but is that the way I want to love? I was familiar with that kind of love; love that is selfish, love that seeks its own pleasure through the beloved. No, I didn’t want to love like that, but what is the other love, love which seeks the pleasure of the beloved and asks nothing for itself – because the joy of the beloved is experienced by the lover as his own.

And what of the moth? I remembered an old Persian saying, “When it’s time has come, the prey finds the hunter.

How does the prey find the hunter? The prey is drawn to the hunter—to its destiny. Is it not love that draws the prey to the hunter?

In the game of love, there are no victims or victors—loss and gain are inseparable—pleasure and pain are entwined.

“The tale of love must be heard from love itself, for, like the mirror, it is both mute and expressive.”—Rumi

“I have lost!”

“No, you have won!”

Rumi and Shams often played chess together.  Shams always won. One day, Rumi saw his king was about to be check-mated and turned the piece down on the board exclaiming, “I have lost!”

 “No, this time you have won!” Shams told Rumi and then bestowed upon him God-Realization.

I came across the following story in the collected Talks of Upasani Maharaj. Upasani Maharaj was a Perfect Master. His tomb and ashram are in Sakori, India, quite near to His Master’s (Sai Baba) tomb and darbar in Shirdi, India.

After His Realization, Upasani would often sit in a special bamboo cage—a structure He had built for Himself—and talk to His followers about this and that—whatever came into His mind.

The story goes like this…

“I remember a story from one of my previous lives.”  

Think about that for a moment. He remembered something that happened in a previous lifetime. Unlike the average person who identifies himself with only a single lifetime—knows only the present point of a nearly endless line whose origin lies in the distant past when his soul first uttered the question, Who am I?” and whose end lies in the distant future when the Goal is reached and the soul looks into the mirror of its own perfected consciousness and proclaims, “Undoubtedly, I am God.”—Upasani was able to see the whole line, nothing is unknowable to a Perfect Master.

Meher Baba put it so eloquently, “You are the knower of the past, the present, and the future, and You are knowledge itself…” — from the Parvardigar Prayer of Avatar Meher Baba

Continuing Upasani’s story:

“I was a boy of ten or so, when once I became very seriously ill. I began to go down like a man suffering from consumption. At that time a very old woman, above eighty years old, used to visit us—she was very much respected in our house. She was a great devotee, a very strict woman. Though her husband was dead, she continued to wear all the marks of saubhagya.”

The “marks of saubhagya” allude to the traditional Hindu custom regarding appropriate dress for a married woman. If a husband pre-deceases his wife, custom dictates that she gives up wearing the marks of saubhagya.

I knew this and hence I used to wipe away the vermilion mark from her forehead, telling everybody that her husband was dead. She used to complain to my elders about my habit of wiping away her vermilion mark.

“When I got reduced to skin and bone, one day she asked my people if they wanted me to die or what; then she looked at me and said to me that I should not be afraid, and that she would make me alright. Again she told my people that they were not giving me proper treatment and then asked them to stop all the treatment that was being given to me; she said she would now do the needful herself.

“From that day she would cook food for me, bring it to me, and feed me. She would sit by my side and tell me many a good story. Sometimes she would pass her hand over my body, and within a month or so I became alright. Afterwards, she continued to give me advice. Even today I remember all the advice of hers. I felt so grateful to her.

“One day she was sitting by me and I asked her if she loved me. She said that she had great love for me. I told her that I also loved her very much. Then I said that I wanted her to reply to my question. I said that I had heard that her husband was dead, and that I wanted to know as to why she persisted against the customs of Brahmanas in applying the vermilion mark. She got a little angry, and said that she has always been telling me that her husband was not dead; he had become immortal.”

I looked at the spider and the moth. I didn’t want that kind of love, but why not? Is not God the ultimate recycler? Does He not use everything? “You are in everything, and You are beyond everything.” – From the Parvardigar Prayer of Meher Baba

I find it interesting, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes disconcerting, that upon entering the spiritual path, knowing is first replaced by unknowing, certainty with uncertainty, light with darkness. All of a sudden, the compass no longer works, maps are found unreliable—even the Master and the Guide seem not to be what they appeared to be. Meher Baba said, “Hold on to my daman (the hem of my garment).”  Hold on tight fellow wayfarers, with both hands and try to remember the words of Hafez, “Praise be to God, for He never tries His slave in vain.”

“For the first year or two after the death of her husband she had given up using the saubhagya marks; (the marks of a married woman—see previous post) but after that she began to wear them again. It was true she was behaving like a saint. People used to say that had realized her Self and she had experienced that her husband had attained immortality…”

This story is so incredible. A Perfect Master is telling a story of one of His past lives. In the story, he is healed by an old woman who continues to wear the marks of a married woman, even though her husband is deceased. She responds to the boy’s criticism by saying that her husband is not dead, but immortal. Is she deluded—unable to face the fact of her husband’s death? And what of the story itself—and the fact that it is being told by a person claimed to experience himself as God who is able to remember his past lives? And finally, what is the listener’s response to the story—how much of the listener’s experience and learning can be suspended or denied—to take it all in as truth? The story continues:

“When she said that her husband had become immortal, I promptly asked her to show him to me. She asked me as to why I wanted to see him; after all, on seeing him it was not me that would have to wear any saubhagya marks—it was her. I told her that I did not mind wearing those marks. She said that I would have to be his wife if I saw him. I said that if he had become immortal and God-like, there was no harm in becoming his wife. She said that she would make me his wife in my next one, if not in the present one…”

I am reminded of the saying, “in order to know God, you have to become God.” How interesting; in the world as most know it, there is an assumption that one can learn, can take in, information/knowledge if he can find it. This part of the story is saying that in order to know the immortal, one has to be changed—as one is, that knowledge, that experience of knowing cannot be had. The New Testament translates the Greek word metanoia as repentance. What is metanoia? Meta means change to another level—like the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. Noia means mind, thus, metanoia means change of mind to another level of functioning. And so, what the boy is asking, and what the old lady is offering is quite extraordinary.

“Then she told me that she would show her husband to me, but that I must not speak about it to anyone. She told my people that she was taking me to her house and we left. Her house was quite near and we soon reached there. She then made me lie down on her bed. This was done every day, and a few days later she infused me with her power and I began to experience the state of a woman.”

“…and a few days later she infused me with her power and I began to experience the state of a woman.”

Upasani Maharaj speaks about this in other talks. There is a relationship that exists between the un-God-conscious soul and God. Expressed in the everyday terms of illusion, if conscious God is taken to be male, than unconscious God, being opposite, is taken to be female. The terms are tricky here, because they are so ‘loaded’, but try to understand that the ‘male/female duality’ that Upasani is speaking about is not the distinctions that the average person makes through limited mind. In Upasani’s distinction, all un-God-conscious men and woman are female in relationship to God. This is the meaning behind the Perfect Master Hazrat Babajan’s correction to people when they called her mam, “don’t call me that, I am a man.”

The problem as stated by Upasani Maharaj is that for the un-God-conscious soul who happens to be in a female form, there is a natural relationship to God, but for the un-God-conscious soul in a male form there is the difficulty of a male/male relationship with God as the Beloved, and therefore, somehow, God must create for the un-God-conscious soul in the male form the experience of being female in relationship to the Beloved in order to experience Divine Union.

“That is what the saints do; you won’t, however, be able to grasp how and what it is. Understand a little if you can. When Lord Shri Krishna showed Himself to be the universe to Arjuna, He first planted His power within him and then alone Arjuna could see the wonderful universe-full form of His. In the same way, her power (the old woman’s power), —her  Jiva slipped into me and I began to forget myself—I began to feel that I was that old woman, and I began to feel that I was seeing the husband of that old lady.

“When I returned a little later into my own state, I could not feel decided about what I had seen; I felt confused. So I asked the old lady about what I was feeling and seeing. She asked me if I was getting (going?) mad. I told her that I would return home since I no longer felt comfortable in her house—not knowing if I had become the old woman or not. She asked me if I had seen her husband. I replied in the affirmative, to which she said that I had not seen him well—correctly—fully—and asked me to lie down on the bed.”

“Being a small boy of ten, I felt frightened with the confusion I had experienced. Day by day I began to behave as if I had lost my senses. People began to say that my illness had recurred…”

What is it that we take ourselves to be? I look in the mirror and see a body. I see it whenever I look in the mirror. It must be me. It must be me, and I must be it. But over time, what I see in the mirror changes. For me, a boy, then a man, then an older man… I say, it is still me, I am just getting older, but who is saying that? The voice I speak to myself with never changes. Who is speaking? And what if one day I looked in the mirror and saw someone else; what would I think? Who would I be? No wonder Upasani was frightened and confused.

“The old woman told my people not to worry; she told them that I was in that state because of what it was she did in response to my constant question regarding why I continue to wear the saubhagya marks and say that my husband is immortal. She said that there was nothing to worry about—that I would be alright soon.

“And so she again asked me to lie down in the bed and as soon as I did so I began to see what I had seen before, but this time, I saw everything clearly…”

“What did he see? “The tale of love must be heard from love itself, for like the mirror, it is both mute and expressive.” – Rumi

“After that, she asked me to go home and to keep quiet about what I had experienced. She said that if I talked to others about it, I would go mad…”

My friends, this path is real, and the further it is traversed the more dangerous it becomes. I remember a time when I a Kundalini yogi gave me the opportunity to meditate with him over a period of days. I would arrive each day at the appointed time in the morning. I would be greeted at the door by the yogi’s three followers who traveled with him. Every day one of them would lead me into a room with a few other guests to meditate with the yogi.

But one day it was different. When I arrived the scene was chaotic. On entering the apartment, it appeared that one of the followers was still asleep on the floor.  But, she was not asleep; she was in some kind of state and could not get out. The yogi was called into the room and he began to work on her. I remember he pressed on her eyes, not really on her eyes; he forced his thumbs under and behind her eyeballs. I mean, his thumbs were buried, I could not see them.

The yogi was working really hard, really physically hard. Slowly, the woman began to come around. It was like she was emerging, being pulled, out of some faraway place. But, to my astonishment, when she finally ‘awoke’ she just immediately got up and started doing things—normal things, the things she would usually do. The yogi returned to his room. When one begins to follow the path, be prepared to trust your guide with your life, because, in fact, that is what you are doing.

“That day I actually experienced that the old woman was a saint, that her husband was immortal and it was immaterial whether she wore any marks of saubhagya or not. She said that she experienced that her husband d become immortal when she was young; it was, therefore, immaterial whether she wore any marks of saubhagya or not; where then was the harm if she wore them?”  The Talks of Sadguru Upasani-Baba Maharaja Volume II, part A.

"Love burns the lover; devotion burns the Beloved." - Meher Baba

“Hanuman could see into the little cloister from his leaky perch. He saw Sita shiver, when she knew the Lord of Lanka had arrived. Quickly she covered her body with her hands. Like frightened birds, her eyes flew this way and that, avoiding Ravana’s smoldering gaze as he came and stood, tall and ominous, before her.

“He drank deeply of the sight of her. He did not appear to notice how disheveled she was, or the dirt that streaked her tear-stained face. Before him, Ravana, master of the earth saw his hopes, his life, his heaven and hell; and, if he had known it, his death as well…”The Ramayana – A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic by Ramesh Menon

The Ramayana is the story of events that occurred thousands of years before the time of our own Kali Yuga and thousands of years before the time of Krishna, the end of Dwapara Yuga, and the stories given the name, The Mahabharata. The events of the Ramayana date back to the Age of Treta, three thousand six hundred years ago. But the story is as timeless as it is ancient, and is as relevant to the present as it was to the past—because though time continues to move ever onward in ongoing cycles, the essence of man, and the odyssey of evolving and involving consciousness never changes. Lust, anger, greed, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, and pride, the dust of the journey from ignorance to knowledge, illusion to reality, and time to timelessness, never changes, because the journey itself is the very reason for creation. As Meher Baba states in His dedication to His book, God Speaks, “To the universe, the illusion that sustains Reality.”

And so, The Ramayana is the story of Ram, the Avataric Persona that precedes the advents of Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohamed, and Meher Baba. It is the story of Sita, His Divine Consort, who loved Him as no one else could love Him, whose beauty shone like the moon reflecting the effulgence of the sun; it is the story of Hanuman, the monkey god, who had the strength to move a planet and the devotion to Ram, as his God, to rescue Sita from the clutches of the ten-headed demon King named Ravana, and it is Ravana’s story as well. There is nowhere in this story that love is not, but that love takes many different shapes and forms.

The following letter, ascribed to Ravana, reveals his true feeling towards Ram, his mortal enemy. Copied down by Falu and given to Bhau Kulchuri, one of Meher Baba’s close Mandali members. The source of this letter remains unknown.


Suka the Rakshasa Minister (of the demons) walked straight to Rama.  Rama stood alone over the corpse of the Demon King Ravana.  There was no one else about, nothing stirred.

Sukha came to Rama and handed him the sealed letter; “for you from the Dead King.”

Rama cracked open the stone envelope in his strong hands.  He looked at the letter a while, then turned to Suka.  "Ah my friend," said Rama fondly.  "Listen."

"Lord Narayana,
(A name of God addressed to Ram) you are the witness, you make the Moon walk in brightness and the stars vanish in the daylight.

"Dear Rama, Lord of the Worlds, think and remember how you promised Indra to kill me forever.  Nothing is forever except yourself.  Except dying at your hand, how else could I make you take me into your own Self?

"I was only a Rakshasa,
(demon) and you were very hard to approach.  Yet seeking wisdom I learned many things, things about you that even you did not know. I knew it all along, but even still you do not know.  Nothing you do ever fails, one glance of yours and people sing again the good old songs.

"I took no protections against men.  You go everywhere, and know everything that ever has or ever will be done.  How was I careless?  I was nowhere careless!  Oh, Narayana, Lo I looked, I marveled—Men are mines, Men are precious mines.  Oh Rama, did you think that dark was bad?

"You see whatever happens and you support all creatures.  I saw that heaven was impermanent and Hell itself did not endure; I discovered that the time of every life is one day full; and I found how all creatures that are separate from you are ever and again reborn, over and over, always changing.  I do not love things that come and go and slip away with Time, and Time himself I hate.  I warned him when we first met that I took him for my enemy, I told him so.

"Best of men, there are many kinds of Love, and I never hurt her.  I kept Lakshmi
(Another name for Sita)  to lure you here.  I offered you my life and you accepted it.

"You are Narayana who moves on the waters.  You flow through us all.  You are Rama and Sita born out of Earth and Ravana the Demon King, you are Hanuman like the wind, you are Lakshmana like a mirror, you are Indrajit and Indra, and you are the Poet and the Players and the Play.  And born as a man you forget this; you lose the memory, and take on man’s ignorance again, as you will, every time.

"Therefore welcome back your Sita.  The war is done, and so we close our letter."

I used to love to old rock and roll songs from the fifties and sixties. They all spoke of love;

“I bless the day I found you, I want to stay around you, now and forever, let it be me.” – Everly Brothers

“What is love, five feet of heaven in a ponytail…” – The Playmates

“Oh my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch…” The Righteous Brothers

I could go on and on sighting one example after another…

The songs embodied a certain innocence… I think God likes that, but what do I know.

What is the old saying? God loves an idiot and hates a fool. What is a fool? Someone that takes everything seriously. What is an idiot? An idiot takes nothing seriously. Idries Shaw, the great Sufi teacher, once wrote a book, “The Wisdom of the Idiots.” If you are really serious, how can you take everything so seriously? If you take everything seriously, how can you be very serious?

Meher Baba once said that Earth was the planet, the only planet at the time, where involution of consciousness—the path—the Path—exists. He also said that there were eighteen thousand planets in the universe with human life—involution and reincarnation. But why is Earth the only planet where involution occurs? Meher Baba said that the Earth is the only planet where there is the possibility of achieving a balance of mind and heart. He said that on the other planets, human being were balanced (over-balanced from the point of involution) on the side of mind over heart.

Bhau Kalchuri, put it this way; “On the other planets, they don’t sing and they don’t drink wine.”

After Shams dropped his body, Rumi began to twirl. This twirl, this whirl, became the movements of those Sufis who came to be called The Whirling Dervishes.

“Like waves upon my head the circling curls,
so in the sacred dance weave ye and whirl.
Dance then, oh heart, a whirling circle be,
Burn in that flame,
Is not the candle He?” – Rumi

“And when the story came to the subject of love,
The pen broke and the paper tore.” – Rumi

In December of 1979 I was sitting in Meher Baba’s tomb in Meherabad, India inwardly speaking my heart to Meher Baba. I had been at His sacred site for a month or so. I had come there not because I was a follower, but with an unshakable conviction that Meher Baba was who He said He was and that this place of pilgrimage was the holiest place on the planet. What did I have to lose?

In this place, at that time, for me, Meher Baba was always available; all I needed to do was to ask and to listen, and I did…

 I had come to His sacred site to experience the holiest place on the planet and maybe to benefit spiritually in some way. My idea would be that I would go on my pilgrimage and when it was over, I would go back to my work—the work I had participated in for the better part of ten years, the Gurdjieff Work as established by Madame Jeanne de Salzmann after Gurdjieff’s death in 1949. Among other things, that period of ten years had deepened my conviction that the mind—that my mind—as represented by the ongoing voice that spoke to me as my own thoughts was not me, did not really know the truth, and was not interested in my well-being, but only in maintaining its own grip of power over me. 

So, was there really any doubt that when at Meher Baba’s place of pilgrimage I began to entertain the idea that that perhaps Meher Baba was my path and that Meher Baba was giving me the opportunity to, so to speak, hitch my little wagon to His caravan—was there really any doubt that I would be very reticent to believe my own thoughts on the matter? I was suspicious.
Inwardly, I spoke to Meher Baba about my concerns and inwardly, and also outwardly, He answered me. How He did that, and what He said, is a story I will save for another time, but as a result of what I heard and saw from Him, I decided to take my opportunity to hitch my little wagon to His Caravan. Since that day, I have never looked back.

But still I had a question, no doubt, born of my own ignorance and the arrogance that follows from it. I had been a seeker for a long time. I was acquainted with all the yogas, practiced meditation, studied all the “isms”, and  learned and practiced much from the teachings of Gurdjieff regarding self-remembering, consciousness, and the way and the goal. That was my ignorance; that was my arrogance, I thought I knew, but I didn’t know.

Yet, with all my ignorance, with all my arrogance, the one thing I knew I didn’t know was love. And that was what I was speaking to Meher Baba about as I sat in His tomb that day in 1979. What I said to Him was; “Meher Baba, I know about all these spiritual things, but the one thing I do not know about is love. I have no idea about love, yet You have said that it is love alone that matters, that I need to follow You in love, that Your path is the Path of Love. And so, Meher Baba, if I am to follow You in love, You will have to show this love to me—I will have to learn it from You.” And Meher Baba agreed to help me; He promised me that He would help. And Meher did not break His promise to me, though how He kept it, what He did, had nothing to do with what I had thought He would do or how He would do it.

No doubt you have all heard the famous piece from Bach’s Cantata BWV 147, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Jesu, God in Human form, the Avatar, is the joy of man’s desiring—the joy of our most deep and fundamental longing for God—the joy of longing, The Path of Love.

After returning home from India, I knew something had happened to me. I felt different, in neither a good nor a bad way, just different. It felt like I had acquired another dimension—like the old me was a cardboard cutout. But, as for love, I was still pretty much without a clue.
I was asked to take over the post of Treasurer for the Chicago Meher Baba Center. Eventually I was elected President of the Center; so I was very much involved with its day to day workings. On a visit to Chicago, Kitty Davy, a longtime lover of Meher Baba and one of the founders of the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, suggested that we move our center to a more open location where people could see it from the street. We took her advice and found a new location in a storefront on Chicago’s north side.

Some days before we found the location I had a dream. My friend Judy and I were sitting in a room with Meher Baba. The room had a large plate-glass window that faced the street. It was a very intimate moment—just the three of us. Meher Baba appeared very happy and at ease as Judy did some little things for Him. I just sat there, taking in the moment. After a few minutes (dream time) people started walking by the window, and seeing Baba inside, stopped and looked. I watched as more and more people continued to stop, and in no time a huge crowd had assembled. From inside, they appeared to be flattened against the plate glass window, so many of them, I could not see beyond them to the street.

I became concerned for Baba. What if they broke through the window? What if they stampeded the place? But from the appearance of Baba’s actions, He in no way shared my concerns. Instead, He turned His chair completely around to face the window. He was having a wonderful time communicating to the throng—apparently no longer paying any attention to Judy or me. So, I picked up a copy of His book, Discourses, and started reading. But no sooner had I read a single word, Baba turned to me and clapped His hands loudly, gesturing that when He was present, I should not read the Discourses, but should keep my attention on Him—even if it appeared that He was not paying any attention to me. I immediately closed the book .

There were definitely some lessons in that dream for me. First, I realized that Meher Baba did not need or want my protection. On the contrary, He wanted to contact as many people as He could—and was that not the whole point of His incarnation? And so, on a personal level, I learned to not hesitate out of concern for Him to speak to people about Meher Baba. However, I felt that He did want me to learn to be appropriate with people.

Another lesson was that when in Baba’s presence, the books, even His books, were not as important as keeping my attention on Him. We are still in that one hundred year period after Baba dropped His body, and this is significant because Meher Baba said that during this one hundred year period after the dropping of His body, He would still continue to be available in the same way as He was before He dropped His body. I don’t believe that this means that I should not read His books for the next forty-four years, but that I should always bear in mind that with regard to His books, His presence always takes precedent. I also find it significant that the room we were in during my dream turned out to be the same room that later became the Chicago Meher Baba Center.

Kitty Davey had been correct, moving the center was a good idea. The Chicago center had fallen into a kind of in-grown slumber. It had been around for a long time, since the 1960’s. It had gone through many changes, but it had lost vitality. This vitality returned when the center was moved. And it was there, at that center, that I began to experience Meher Baba’s love. But not within myself!

Meher Baba was keeping His promise to me, I was learning about love, seeing love, but not feeling it directly within myself, by indirectly through the people that came to the center, especially new people who learned about Meher Baba and were jazzed. How often did I feel His love in them, how often did I find myself in a quiet corner of the center quietly weeping cool tears? Yes, I still found  myself a beggar sitting on the floor beneath His table of love, picking up crumbs dropped by the innocent and the saints, sometimes accidentally, sometimes fed by them like a dog under the table—but  I wept, not from sadness, but from unspeakable gladness, from the glimpse, from the longing.

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