Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Masters of Illusion

There can be many teachers; anything or anyone can be a teacher—someone or something you love, or admire, or fear, or despise. A teacher can be a disease, or an enemy, or a friend. A teacher can be the body, or the mind, or an idea. One learns from a teacher, but one surrenders to a master. Surrenders to a master takes many forms, but in the end, what is surrendered is always the same—always the illusory self—nothing real is ever lost—how could it be otherwise?

Nearly two years ago (09/02/12 – I published excerpts from the letters of the most highly esteemed Sufi Master, Shaikh Al- Arabi Ad-Darqawi. I feel that it is a good time to revisit the Master’s letters and bathe again in the effulgent light of his gnosis. We begin with Al- Arabi’s own description of his meeting with his Master, Ali- al-Jamal at Fez in 1797.

“That night I asked God to confirm my intention and I spent the whole night, unable to sleep, picturing him to myself and wondering what he was like and how my meeting with him would be. When morning came, I went to find him at his Zawiyah in the Rumaylah quarter, located between the two cites of (of Fez), on the river bank, in the direction of the Qiblah, on the very spot where his tomb lies today.

“I knocked on the gate and there he was before me, sweeping out the Zawiyah, as was his custom, for he never gave up sweeping it every day with his own blessed hand, in spite of his great age and high spiritual function. ‘What do you want?’ he said. ‘Oh my Lord,’ I replied, ‘I want you to take me by the hand for God.’

“Then he began to reprove me furiously, hiding his true state from my eyes, with words such as these: ‘And who told you that I take anyone at all by the hand and why ever should I do so for you?’ And he drove me away—all to test my sincerity. So I went away.

“But when night came I questioned God once more (by means of the Holy Book). Then after performing the morning prayer, I went back again to the Zawiyah. I found the master again sweeping as before and knocked at the gate. He opened it and let me in and I said, ‘Take me by the hand, for God’s sake!’ Then he took me by the hand and said, ‘Welcome!’ He led me into his dwelling place in the inner part of the Zawiyah and manifested great joy. ‘Oh my Lord,’ I said to him, ‘I have been looking for a master for so long!’ ‘And I,’ he replied,’ was looking for a sincere disciple.” – As related by his disciple, Ibn al Khayyat, in the printed edition of the collected letters.

Apparently, in this case, what was said to the master and how it was said, was very important; “…take me by the hand for God,” as opposed to, “take me by the hand for God’s sake!” rendered very different responses.

I had been in the Gurdjieff Work for nearly a decade and was quite satisfied with it. The thought of ever leaving the Work never crossed my mind. But my fate led me to India and the tomb-shrine of Avatar Meher Baba. Of course, I already knew about Meher Baba and had no doubt that He was who He said He was—the Avatar—the Ancient One—the Highest of the High, but as I said, I was already following a spiritual teaching and had no intention of leaving it. My thinking was that given whom Meher Baba was, His tomb-shrine would have to be the holiest place on the planet—why could I not go and drink the wine of that experience? What could be more important than that?

And so I went, but things changed quickly for me once I arrived. I began to feel that I was being given an opportunity to follow Meher Baba—but how could I believe my own mind? So, I asked Him, “Meher Baba, how can I believe my own mind?” and He answered through experiences that left me no doubts. Then, I said to Him, “Your path is the Path of Love, I am not even a beggar on the floor under that table. If following You is about love, then it must be up to You alone, to teach me that love.” Later I heard His words,

“Love is a gift from God to man.
Obedience is a gift from Master to man. Surrender is a gift from man to Master.

“One who loves desires the will of the Beloved.
One who obeys does the will of the Beloved.
One who surrenders knows nothing but the will of the Beloved.

“Love seeks union with the Beloved.
Obedience seeks the pleasure of the Beloved.
Surrender seeks nothing.

“One who loves is the lover of the Beloved.
One who obeys is the beloved of the Beloved.
One who surrenders has no existence other than the Beloved.

“Greater than love is obedience.
Greater than obedience is surrender.
All three arise out of, and remain contained in, the Ocean of divine Love.”

Al-‘Arabi goes on to quote sayings of his Master ‘Ali al-Jamal:

“While others are busy with worship, do you pay heed to Him who is worshipped?”  
Pay heed to the wine and not the wine glass.

When they are busy with love, do you remain busy with the Beloved?
When He brings the glass to your table, is it the wine or the Cupbearer who steals your attention?

“While they are seeking to perform miracles, do you look for the delights of prayer?”
Seek His company more than His manifestations.

“While they multiply their devotions, attend to your most generous Lord.”
Devotion is about you, attention to your Lord is about Him.

“Were you to contemplate Him in everything, contemplation of Him would veil all things from your sight.”
Attention to the One in the many veils one to the many in the One. Jalal al-Din Rumi tells the story of a man who journeys to the King. Along the way many people ask him to deliver their various messages to the King. He takes the messages and stuffs them in his pockets. When he arrives at the court of the King he sees Him sitting on a throne in all His resplendent effulgence and the man loses consciousness in the sight of Him. The King asks those around Him, “Who is this man who has fallen unconscious in My presence? Let us go see.” He then steps down from His throne and approaches the man. Kneeling next to him He says, “And what are all these various scraps of paper in his pockets?” The King then reads each message and attends to it. Rumi then comments, that because the man had forgotten himself so completely in the presence of the King, the King Himself attended to all of the man’s affairs in a manner far better than the man could ever have attended to them himself.

More of Al-‘Arabi quotes of his Master ‘Ali al-Jamal:

“For He is the only thing outside of which there is no thing.”
For what can there be that is beyond Everything? Nothing is within Everything—how could it be the other way around?

“If you bring together the ephemeral and the eternal, the ephemeral is extinguished and the eternal alone subsists.”
If we were to speak about the ephemeral and the eternal in terms of subsistence, the ephemeral would take effort to sustain while the eternal is self-sustaining. How does the eternal self-sustain? By creating, preserving, and destroying the ephemeral—the universe.

“If the qualities of the Well-Beloved were to be manifested, both the veil and he whose sight is veiled would be as naught.”
As Eruch Jessawalla once explained regarding the line, “…Truth and Truth’s body—Divine Avatar,” from Francis Brabazon’s arti to Meher Baba, were Truth to descend directly into illusion, illusion would be destroyed, and so when God—Truth—is moved to descend into illusion, He takes on a suitable human form in order to veil His light from the darkness of creation so that the darkness of creation is not destroyed by His light. What a game it is that He creates, to come again and again as the Messiah—the Avatar—the Ancient One—to quicken the journey of all souls in creation to experience their own Divine light, without destroying the darkness of creation which sustains the Divine light itself!

“To abstain from things is to over-estimate their power and this is due to the veil that hides God from you;
“For if you contemplated Him in things, or before or after, they would not hide Him from you.
“It is because you are preoccupied with things that God is hidden from you by them;
“If you saw their existence as flowing from Him, their existence would not hide Him from you.”
“To abstain from things is to over-estimate their power and this is due to the veil that hides God from you;” What an incredible statement is that!  Shams-e Tabriz said, “Ours is not a caravan of despair.”  
When you walk through a darkened movie theater do you follow the lights that mark your way or do you concentrate on the darkness that surrounds you? Ours is not a caravan of despair. Focus on illusion empowers illusion; in fact, were we to withhold our attention from illusion, illusion would cease to exist.
There is the Sufi story about the teacher who searches for his key under the light of a streetlamp. A student asks him if that is where he lost it. The teacher replies that he lost the key in the yard in the dark. “Then why are you looking for it here?” the student asks. “Because the light is better here,” replies the teacher. What is it that is lost in the dark and found in the light? The key. The key to what? The key that unlocks the riddle; what is it that which when found is realized to never have been lost at all?

There are things I have heard said by Meher Baba, some I have heard before and some I have never heard, but whether I have heard them before or not, when they come from Him, they have a clarity and simplicity and ring of Truth I have heard nowhere else and from no one else.

“Age after age the Avatar comes amidst mankind to maintain his own creation of illusion, thereby also awakening humanity to awareness of it. 

“The framework of illusion is always one and the same, but the designs in illusion are innumerable and ever-changing. 

“My advent is not to destroy illusion because illusion, as it is, is absolutely nothing.  I come to make you become aware of the nothingness of illusion.

“Through you I automatically maintain illusion which is nothing but the shadow of my infinite Self, and through me you automatically discard illusion when you experience its falseness.”
  Life at its Best, by Avatar Meher Baba; P 73 Edited by Ivy O. Duce Copyright 1957 by Sufism Reoriented

Continuing with excerpts from the letters of the Sufi Master, Shaikh Al-‘Arabi ad-Darqawi:

The Venerable Master Qasim al-Khasasi said (may God be well pleased with him): ‘Pay no attention to him who slanders you, but pay attention to God. He will remove the slanderer from you, for it is He who incites him against you in order to test your sincerity—but many men are mistaken on this question.’ If you pay attention to him who slanders you, the slander will continue, together with your sin of distraction from God.”

How long does it take to first be able to hear the truth in all of these messages, let alone be able to live accordingly? Meher Baba said that it takes on the average eight million four hundred thousand lifetimes in the human form to achieve Realization.
Upon reaching the first human form consciousness is full and complete, but it is not perfect, there still remains the dust of the journey gathered through all of the pre-human forms that remains to be shaken off.
But before the dust can be removed it has to be loosened. Loosening is the job of reincarnation, removing is the job of involution. It takes many lifetimes to begin to hear the truth in the teachings of the Masters, many more lifetimes to be able to live them. But, “ours is not a caravan of despair,” and so Shams-e-Tabriz reminds us, “though you may have broken your vow a thousand times, come, come yet again, come!
Despair means to lose hope, remorse means deep regret. Remorse is natural to the path to Truth consciousness, it motivates one’s work; despair is not natural to the path to Truth consciousness, it is part of the problem and not the solution. Gurdjieff used to say that God loves an idiot, because idiots don’t take things very seriously. Fools, on the other hand, take everything seriously and, therefore, cannot be very serious.

Oh you who goes astray in the understanding of your own secret,
Look, for you shall find in yourself the whole of existence;
You are the Infinite, seen as the Way and seen as the Truth,
Oh you, synthesis of the Divine Mystery in Its Totality.” – Saint al-Mursi

In his letters, Shaikh Al- ‘Arabi Ad-Darqawi tells this story:

“I was in a state which was a very intense combination of spiritual intoxication and sobriety as, one evening; I entered the mosque which contains the tomb of Husayni Sharif. It was just the hour of sunset and the muezzin was calling to prayer form the roof of the sanctuary. I was wearing an old cloak made of pieces of cloth patched together and on my head was three caps, equally old; one on top of the other, for such was my inclination at the time.

“Now into the depths of my consciousness there came the idea that I needed a forth cap and at that very moment the muezzin came down with from the roof, running and laughing. A stork, carrying this cap off to her nest, had let it fall on him. As he came towards me laughing with the cap in his hand, I said to him, ‘Give it to me, for God’s sake, it is meant for me!’ And seeing that I was already wearing three caps just like it, he gave it to me.

“For men in a state of spiritual sincerity it is always like that; everything which is manifested in their hearts immediately makes its appearance in the sensory world. God’s curse be on those who lie!”

This beautiful story has such great depth; to begin with, Al- ‘Arabi’s reference to his state of spiritual intoxication and sobriety. Meher Baba clarifies the distinction between the Majzoob state and the Salik state by saying that the Majzoob is absorbed in the experience while the Salik absorbs the experience. The God-intoxicated ones are absorbed in the experience and that is why they externally appear to be drunk, while the Salik appears more ‘normal’ on the outside. The actions of both the Majzoob and the Salik are not an act—their actions reflect the state they are in.

There is a story about how Gurdjieff showed up drunk to a talk he was to give to a spiritual group. He staggered to the podium and then teetering and slurring his words said, “There is a difference between the wine and the wine glass.” Then, suddenly, he became totally sober and in the clearest speech he said, “Never mistake the one for the other.” He then walked off the stage leaving the audience in stunned silence. It is my opinion that Gurdjieff was not acting—either sober or intoxicated. He was intoxicated when he appeared intoxicated and was sober when he was appeared sober. The ability to change one’s state at will is a mark of the Elect—as is the ability to be in two states simultaneously—as was Al- ‘Arabi when he was at the mosque.

Everything that the Elect do is highly significant and has meaning on many different levels. With regard to the clothing that Al- ‘Arabi was wearing, the patchwork cloak and the three caps; it is said that whatever teaching, in whatever form, is laid before a Sufi, he will find the truth therein. Whether it is the Bible or the Koran, Buddhist scripture or Veda, the Sufi will not mistake the wine glass for the wine. The patched cloak represents the Sufi’s ability to find the essential truth in all things apparently different.

And what of the three caps and the forth that he desired? Perhaps the three caps that he was wearing when he entered the mosques represented the three domains of illusory consciousness—the gross, the subtle, and the mental. Was the fourth cap the cap of Reality representing God-Realization?

And finally, what of the statement; “For men in a state of spiritual sincerity it is always like that; everything which is manifested in their hearts immediately makes its appearance in the sensory world.” ?

Gurdjieff once spoke about buffers. He said that the average person has buffers, like the buffers between railroad trains, that absorb the shock of contradictory I’s that make up the inner world—identity—of a man. Without these buffers, Gurdjieff said, the average person would go mad seeing the raging contradictions that he is.

Spiritual sincerity is a very high state indeed. In spiritual sincerity there are no buffers—a man sees what he is—and for a man in this state, “everything which is manifested in their hearts immediately makes its appearance in the sensory world.” How can that be so? Perhaps it is because the sensory world does not exist at all independently of the consciousness of person who perceives that world. How can it be otherwise?

A fool takes everything seriously but an idiot takes nothing seriously—except God! Praise be to the wisdom of the idiots!

And finally, the last page of the letters of Al-‘Arabi reads:

“Know, and may God be merciful to you, that I was expecting one of my faqir friends to ask me where I found this saying; ‘Every single man has many needs, but in reality all men need only one thing which is truly to remember God—if they acquire that, they will not want for anything, whether they possess it or do not possess it.’

“Now if I had been asked, I would have replied that in my youth, about ten months after I reached maturity, all in one moment I pierced through to the presence of my Lord and lo and behold, I was no longer as I had been until then, for God put His power in the place of my powerlessness, His strength in the place of my weakness, His wealth in the place of my poverty, His knowledge in the place of my ignorance, and His glory in the place of my lowliness. In other words, He covered over my quality with His, in such a way that I was no longer myself.

“In the words of God brought to us by the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace), ‘My servant never ceases to come closer to me through voluntary devotions until I love him, and as soon as I love him, I am He.’”

And does it not always only come down to that? Read any of my blogs, any sacred text, any of the teachings of any Perfect Master, or Avatar, and does it not always come down to the one great Truth: God alone is Real; God alone is the Goal; and God is the Way to the Goal of union with Him.
Creation is neither friend nor enemy; in creation one experiences pleasure and pain and ultimately death followed by birth. Creation is merely the dream that creates the illusion of separation between the states of sleeping God and awake God. Death is the servant of God, for through the death of all the internal and external dream worlds of life, when the dream of life is itself finally extinguished forever, what remains is what always was, is and will be—Eternal—Infinite— Beloved God.

“There is no barrier between the lover and the Beloved;
Hafiz, lift yourself aside, you are yourself the covering over Self.” – Hafez as quoted by Meher Baba, God Speaks, page 74


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